We are less than seven weeks from a possible no deal Brexit. Businesses must be prepared and, unfortunately, we simply cannot assume everything is going to be okay.

Through all the uncertainty, some guidance has emerged. All European Union citizens currently living in the UK will need to apply for settled status if they are to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.

The government has published the “employer toolkit” containing information for businesses to support EU citizens through applying to the EU Settlement Scheme, and I am beginning to wonder if government advice to businesses should be just as stark; plan for Brexit, it is going to happen, and it is going to be tough.

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Instead, the UK Government has issued many pieces of guidance for businesses, over 80 to date, but I am not sure how many business leaders have read them or have prepared for the inevitable outcome that will be happening with a bang 30th March. It might be “soft” or it might be “hard” but it is going to happen - and the fall out will be enormous.

A recent event I attended on Scottish tourism showed workforce shortages were high on the agenda. With around 25% of the workforce already from the EU, concerns are high about where the workers of tomorrow come from. This is an especially key area, as the threshold of £30k for a “skilled worker” seems absurdly high, especially for Scotland.

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The IoD’s own survey of 1,200 members across the UK recently showed that 16% had already moved some business and 13% had relocation plans following a negative Brexit outcome. The trend was not restricted to big business. While more large companies had already moved operations, small firms were almost twice as likely to be now actively considering the prospect. Many have European links and the vast majority have massive concerns about new immigration targets limiting the workforce. We can no longer ignore the real consequences of delay and confusion than business leaders can ignore the hard choices that they face in protecting their companies. Change is a necessary and often positive part of doing business, but the unavoidable disruption and increased trade barriers that a no-deal would bring are entirely unproductive.

Last Thursday, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce published their quarterly review reflecting how damaging the on-going uncertainty is across a whole range of industries, with Construction, Manufacturing, Retail/Wholesale and Tourism, Financial and Business Services all citing finance costs as a top concern. In parallel, the Federation of Small Businesses also published a confidence monitor at almost an all-time low.

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While I can’t speak for every industry, what I would suggest is that businesses communicate with each other. We must also pay heed to the experts. If you want analysis of what is going to happen in the agriculture industry, then listen to the National Farmers Union and not a politician holding court about farming. Similarly, if the boss of Jaguar Land Rover says prospects are bleak and job losses are likely, then believe him, not a spokesperson for the European Research Group.

Businesses must talk to each other; to their staff; their stakeholders; their customers and their suppliers and listen to them – not partial views from Westminster. They must prepare very quickly on the basis of the information they glean from these factual and realistic sources – not from a wish list in the public domain.

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The IoD is not political, but I do have some sympathy for the European official who condemned people for proposing Brexit with no deal in mind. It feels akin to jumping off a cliff without a parachute, and assuming the land will be soft at the bottom or someone else will catch you. Unfortunately neither politicians nor business leaders know what that ending will look like – so we must prepare for every eventuality.

David Watt is executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland.

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