Countless UK businesses have been having nightmares over the potential disruption to supply chains ever since we voted to leave the EU back in the summer of 2016. As the clock to Brexit ticked down to the wire last year – and just as we all expected a ‘no-deal’ trade agreement – we suddenly learn on Christmas Eve that the marathon negotiations produced a positive result after all. Common sense prevailed, enabling business owners and managers to face the future with a lot more certainty.
So, some welcome news, especially while much of the world remains preoccupied with tackling the pitiless Coronavirus. However, we should not automatically expect future trade with our former European partners to be plain sailing just because we signed a piece of paper. It would be naïve to expect favours from anyone, least of all from our former partners on the other side of the English Channel.
While the immediate threat of high tariffs being slapped on export produce appears to have been avoided, we still face considerable challenges on trading rules and regulations. For example, while common quality and environmental standards are widely accepted across the EU, these may become subject to change over which we may no longer have any direct influence.
Similarly, the current rules on HR which allow highly skilled foreign workers to live and work in the UK may also come up for review. As a result, our talent pool could easily shrink which is why, at UnitBirwelco, we have been stepping up our links with relevant UK universities, taking on graduate trainees and expanding our training and apprentice programme. We’re on our own now.
As for supply chains, they are, of course, already disrupted due to the ravages of COVID-19. Lead times have been extended as Covid disrupted production capacity. Whilst understandable, the widespread stockpiling we saw last year as the Brexit talks dragged on exacerbated the problem.
Modern logistics are complex, sometimes involving a huge number of inter-connected manufacturers, all of whom are having their own problems. On top of that, you must consider freight companies, airport operators and ocean terminals – all of whom are suffering and all of whom represent vital links in the chain that can so easily be broken.
The time for politics is over. Manufacturers, wherever they are based, will need to collaborate, and work in close partnership to ensure the transition to a new trading relationship between the UK and the EU is a smooth one.