Two thirds of the way through the political conference season and the Parties have already seen more action than is crammed into some whole years. There were defections aplenty at the Liberal Democrats as well as a full throated pledge to embrace Remain and predictions of enough seat gains to make Jo Swinson Prime Minister. The Labour Conference got off to an appalling start as a plot to oust Deputy Leader Tom Watson was seen off by the barest of margins. Then the Party’s policy chief, credited with the popular 2017 manifesto resigned citing a lack of professionalism, competence and even ‘human decency’ in the leadership group around Jeremy Corbyn. Then there was a shambolic ‘defeat’ for pro-remainers on the conference floor amid accusations of a stitch up. The pressure was building and then the vessel blew from an entirely different direction as the Government lost its case before the Supreme Court.
So, the Party Conference Season has come to an end early, except it hasn’t. Labour’s Conference actually met on Wednesday (and passed a controversial motion in favour of freedom of movement). As I am writing this article, the Government has been defeated again in the House of Commons in its bid to enable Conservative Conference to take place as normal. It will still take place in some form (probably?) but rather than sitting in Fringe meeting and Conference sessions I shall now be spending a couple of days visiting MTA members in the North West (the hotel room is non-refundable).
As to what happens next, the range of possibilities is closing down. It is now too late to hold an election before 31st October. The Benn act should force the Government to seek an extension - Number 10 is briefing that they will find a way round it but, given the evidence of this week, it would be unwise to put too much faith in their legal prowess. So, it looks most likely that there will be an extension followed by a General Election in late November with the Conservatives running on a People Vs Parliament ticket. Of course there are all sorts of other permutations from a Government of National Unity (which I doubt would hold together for long) to a second referendum; however given the rhetoric of the PM over the last few days I think we can no rule out a last minute Deal, he’s not exactly going out of his way to endear himself to the Labour, Lib Dem or SNP members whose votes that would need.
The Government is insistent that a No Deal exit on the 31st October remains the legal default position and is encouraging businesses to prepare on that basis. They have made an online tool available to help Companies to understand what they need to do in areas like, customs, certification and employment law. You can access it here https://www.gov.uk/business-uk-leaving-eu This will give you some guidance as to what your business needs to think about at least and is useful starting point.
Many exporters have already taken sensible measures to get themselves ready but one group of companies that may not have considered the implications as fully as they might have done is those who ‘just’ import goods from the EU, which includes many MTA members who distribute on behalf on European suppliers. These companies will now have to complete (online) customs declarations and potentially pay tax on their imports. They can find a basic checklist here https://www.gov.uk/prepare-import-to-uk-after-brexit