THE message of the UK Government’s Brexit information campaign – “The UK’s new start: let’s get going” – is of course intensely irritating on several fronts.

It implies that the end of the transition period on December 31 and the ensuing major changes, for which people are being told by the campaign to prepare, are good things. The actuality of the situation is that UK households and businesses will have to deal with a raft of negative effects after this key date, for years and decades.

When the transition period ends, so will free movement of people between the UK and European Union countries. Obviously, the benefits of this to the UK economy and society, and living standards, will also be lost at this point. Truly frictionless trade with the EU, which is as a bloc by far the UK’s biggest export market, will also be lost.

So the “new start”, we should be aware, will be a bit like being on the blocks for a 10,000-metre race in an international competition with your ankles tied together.

And, in this predicament, the “let’s get going” bit also seems absurdly positive.

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It will perhaps imply to some that the UK has somehow been held back by its EU membership, instead of having been boosted greatly by it over decades. Things were going just fine in terms of the benefits of EU membership before the Brexit brigade got going and persuaded the electorate that it would be beneficial to leave. In the four years which have followed, those dragging the UK out of the European bloc have failed spectacularly to deliver or demonstrate benefits of Brexit. This failure will have been no surprise to those aware of the realities of EU membership and the consequences of not having it, but it is perhaps demoralising that more of those persuaded to vote for Brexit have not taken those they backed to task over this.

As the UK Government launched the public information campaign this week, the Cabinet Office said: “It will clearly set out the actions businesses and individuals need to take to prepare for the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, and ensure they are ready to seize the opportunities that it will bring.”

It will be interesting to see if these opportunities are going to emerge suddenly and magically, having been invisible for more than four years since the June 2016 Brexit vote.

It appears the “let’s get going” part of the campaign message relates to picking up the pace of preparations.

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And this is a very interesting message indeed, given the backdrop.

We are less than six months away from the end of the transition period and households and businesses have very little idea of what the future relationship between the UK and EU is going to look like.

This is not because they have not been paying attention. It is because the UK Government does not yet know.

The loss of single-market membership is, sadly, set in stone, it appears. This will damage the UK economy significantly under any scenario, as forecasts drawn up by the Theresa May government have shown.

However, there is still a wide range of possible outcomes in the excruciating negotiations between the UK and EU.

Possibilities range from the most-damaging of all of the scenarios, a no-deal departure and crashing on to World Trade Organisation terms, to a comprehensive free-trade deal which mitigates to some degree what will under any circumstances be major Brexit-related damage, given single-market membership has been ruled out.

So what are people being asked to hurry up to prepare for? This is the big question.

The way things are looking, households and businesses will have to prepare for a no-deal exit. Who knows if any UK Government ministers might view the advertising campaign as somehow putting pressure on our long-suffering EU neighbours by showing just how willing the UK is to crash out without a deal.

Given the EU is 27 countries, and the UK is one, it would seem unlikely that our European neighbours would be worried about any such sabre-rattling.

In the context of businesses, the advertising campaign message looks particularly incongruous alongside a survey published this week by the Institute of Directors.

Only one-quarter of UK business leaders surveyed say their organisations are prepared fully for the end of the Brexit transition period, and nearly nine in 10 say that a trade deal with the EU is important for the economy as it recovers.

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It is well worth delving into the detail of this. And UK Government ministers might want to contemplate some of the reasons why business leaders are currently unable to prepare, high-profile advertising campaign or not.

Of the 978 company directors polled by the IoD in late June, nearly half said they were not able to prepare right now, with one in seven distracted by the coronavirus pandemic and nearly one-third declaring they needed details of any changes to be clear before adjusting.

It seems perfectly reasonable to expect the details of any changes which will occur after December 31 to be clear before endeavouring to deal with them.

The IoD highlighted its view that time to adjust once changes were clear would be vital to business recovery, whether there was a deal or not. This seems like a reasonable statement of reality. But it is not clear at this stage that the reality of the Brexit fiasco is being grasped by the UK Government, which continues to talk about “opportunities”.

In the IoD’s survey findings, it is no surprise that a significant proportion of business leaders are citing the coronavirus pandemic as a key reason for their inability to prepare for the end of the transition period. Businesses face a huge task in dealing with the fall-out from the pandemic.

The UK Government has made a big noise in recent weeks about having ruled out an extension of the transition period – during which the country remains a member of the European single market – beyond December 31. The July 1 deadline to agree an extension of the transition period, which has been in effect since Brexit was implemented on January 31, has of course now come and gone. The clock is ticking and the negotiations are going round in circles.

This is a grim situation for households and businesses already having to deal with the human tragedy that is the coronavirus pandemic and the huge economic fall-out from this. Heaping uncertainty upon uncertainty at the moment is not good for anyone. It reflects a woeful lack of leadership on the part of the UK Government.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford this week described the idea of leaving the European single market this winter, amid the coronavirus crisis, as “economic madness”.

The IoD survey found financial companies were most likely to be ready for the end of the transition period, while manufacturers in particular had more to do. Directors of services companies felt especially unable to prepare at present, the IoD noted, whether as a result of pressures of the pandemic or because they needed more clarity on changes. This is perfectly understandable.

And why should anyone, businesses or households, be expected to prepare for a wide range of possible outcomes because the UK Government has got us into a position where no-one has any clear idea of which particular scenario will be the one which becomes reality after the transition period ends?

The huge degree to which businesses believe that a trade deal with the EU is important, to their own organisations and the economy, is notable. And what is perhaps most striking is that, even among those business leaders who favour divergence from EU rules, a big majority considers a trade deal important to the UK economy. Overall, about 69% of business leaders said that reaching a trade deal was important for their organisation. And 89% said such a deal was important for the overall economy as it recovers. Even among the portion of directors who favoured being able to diverge from EU rules, 71% said that reaching a deal was important to the economy.

As it proceeds with its talks with the EU on the future relationship, the UK Government might want to take these views on board.

These reflect the reality on the ground, far more so than the “UK’s new start: let’s get going” message that we are going to be hearing a lot about during the Government’s protracted information campaign.