THE contrast between Lord David Frost’s January 1 comment about New Year Honours bestowed on his Brexit negotiating team and the Federation of Small Businesses’ first survey release of 2022 could hardly have been starker.

The FSB focused on the grim realities facing small firms in these tough times, flagging major woes in trading with the European Union arising from Brexit as well as various other challenges including the Boris Johnson administration’s impending hike in national insurance contributions and an increase in late payments.

In particular, the FSB highlighted the fact that nearly three-quarters of small exporters were reporting flat or falling international sales. This reality is not only at odds with the outpourings of Lord Frost on Brexit but also with the UK Government’s bombastic and bafflingly upbeat rhetoric on international trade – talk which seems quite the opposite of what is happening on the ground.

The FSB also flagged the arrival of more bureaucracy for firms with the implementation of full import checks on goods arriving from the European Union from January 1.

These Brexit-induced import checks thankfully had to be delayed amid a lack of preparedness on the part of the UK Government in the wake of the hard Brexit delivered by the Johnson administration but now they are here, bringing further major headaches and cost for businesses large and small. And threatening to exacerbate shortages in Brexit Britain.

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Highlighting a further drop in business confidence as it published the results of its latest survey, of 1,271 business owners, the FSB said this week: “With full import checks and rules of origin requirements now in place for firms which do business in the EU, the bulk (74 per cent) of small exporting firms report that international sales were flat or falling over the past quarter. Close to four in 10 (38%) of these firms report a decrease in exports. Previous FSB research shows that only one in four small importers are fully prepared for new import checks.”

Not that any of this seems to be worrying Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister who resigned from the Johnson Cabinet last month citing concerns over the administration’s “direction of travel”. These concerns appear to relate to the pandemic, with Lord Frost passionately asserting an anti-restrictions stance on coronavirus.

Lord Frost tweeted on the evening of January 1: “Huge congratulations to everyone from the British negotiating team from 2020 who received an honour this New Year. I’m very glad to see proper recognition for those who worked so hard and did such a brilliant job for our country. They really deserve it.”

Not surprisingly, this fascinating view provoked a backlash from people in business weighed down by the effects of Brexit and from many others in myriad walks of life.

The hugely detrimental impact of Brexit on international trade was highlighted by some of those who responded. So, too, was the loss of freedoms enabling people in the UK to live, work and study abroad. Also flagged were the country’s exit from the enormously valuable Erasmus study abroad scheme, and many other ills visited upon us all by the Brexit crusade.

Entrepreneur Deborah Meaden, who features in the Dragons’ Den show on the BBC, said of Lord Frost’s tweet: “Words. Empty words.”

Alastair Campbell, best known for his roles as former prime minister Tony Blair’s spokesman, press secretary, and director of communications and strategy, responded to Lord Frost’s tweet by declaring: “The great British tradition of using the honours system to reward failure.”

Football pundit Gary Neville gave his view that former Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Lord Frost was taking the proverbial.

Former rugby player Brian Moore responded to Lord Frost’s congratulatory declaration by asking: “Do parody accounts get blue ticks now?”

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And James O’Brien, author of How Not To Be Wrong: The Art Of Changing Your Mind and presenter on radio station LBC, replied to the former Brexit minister by asking: “Sorrywhatpardon?”

The FSB said it was “warning that a worsening of the UK’s late payment crisis, high inflation and mounting admin for firms that trade internationally will cause the business community to further shrink in size if left unaddressed”.

Setting out the gravity of the situation, and various hindrances imposed on firms, FSB national chairman Mike Cherry declared: “The small business community diminished in size over the past year and, unless action is taken now to tackle the challenges it faces, history is set to repeat itself.

“After another frustrating festive season, small firms are facing flashpoint after flashpoint. Today, it’s a fresh wave of admin for importers and exporters – in three months’ time it will be a hike to the jobs tax that is national insurance contributions, a rise in dividend taxation ... and an increase in the national living wage. On top of that, operating costs are surging – many will soon be trying to strike energy deals without the clout of big corporates or the protections afforded to consumers.”

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Urging action from the Johnson administration, he added: “Small business confidence dropped in every quarter of 2021. As we head into the New Year, the Government needs to act now if we’re to reverse that trend and secure an economic bounce-back.”

Meanwhile, a survey published this week by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply and financial information company IHS Markit underlined Brexit’s ongoing drag on exports and part in pushing up hard-pressed UK businesses’ costs.

Highlighting the effect on exports, CIPS and IHS Markit said: “Manufacturers indicated that logistic issues, Brexit difficulties and the possibility of further Covid restrictions, at home and overseas, had all hit export demand at the end of the year.”

And, flagging the part of Brexit in driving costs higher, they added: “December saw a further substantial increase in average input prices, with the rate of inflation staying among the steepest seen in the survey history. There were reports of higher costs for chemicals, electronics, energy, food products, metals, timber and wood. Freight, shipping and air transportation costs were also higher, while ongoing supply disruptions, raw material shortages and issues relating to Brexit and Covid-19 also led to higher prices paid.”

The surveys from the FSB, and CIPS and IHS Markit, among others, spell out the simple realities the UK Government should be addressing as we start 2022, if it is at all interested in the economy.

Of course, it is sadly inevitable that the Johnson administration’s hard Brexit will continue to wreak major economic damage.

And big talk about the UK’s international trade prowess, when this loud noise is in stark contrast to the actuality, is not only highly irritating but also of absolutely no help to businesses and households navigating the Brexit mire created for them by their leaders. Claiming or even believing the reality of something is the opposite of what it is will not make it so.