And so here we are.
An independent nation once again, determining our own trade policy and securing our own agreements with countries all over the world.
Our final transition out of the EU – marked with those bongs from Big Ben at 11pm on December 31 – means that almost everything you knew about doing business will have changed in some way or another.
Some of those changes might be subtle, some a bit more brutal, but the learning curve into this brave new world has well and truly started.
If you are still all at sea over what your company should be doing, the Government’s own toolkits are a good place to start. Head over to https://www.gov.uk/transition and the walk-through guide should give you a good idea of some of the things you need to start getting to grips with.
The scale of the change is incredible.
Contracts may need to be rewritten, labelling for products changes, import and export documentation will be new and there will be changes to the way you can recruit workers, particularly those from the EU.
You’ll need to assess the strength and resilience of your supply chain, get to grips with new employment and health and safety standards and factor any new trade tariffs into your business plan.
There will be lots of new opportunities too. New trade deals are opening up additional international markets and it’s worth keeping a close eye on business support websites such as the Marches Growth Hub for information about events to help you explore some of the new markets.
One of the big areas all employers will be affected by is employment law.
From January 1 and the end of the transition period, the UK is no longer obliged to impose EU law in the way it was during the transition period, although any trade deal could change that.
So, on January 1 all EU law was converted into UK law and remains in force only until the Government decides to change or amend it. As such, it’s worth keeping a close eye on the news over the next few months.
Similarly, freedom of movement ceased at the moment the transition period ended. Any UK national now working in the EU must abide by their rules and those of the individual member state. Naturally, the same also applies for EU nationals who continue to work in the UK.
If your EU staff have not yet applied for settled status or pre-settled status (depending on how long they have lived here) they need to do so quickly, with the deadline for applications being June 30 2021. After that, they risk being classed as ‘illegal immigrants’ and could face deportation.
A new points-based immigration system also came into effect on January 1.
Under the scheme, the majority of people will need sponsorship from their employers to meet the criteria and the employer will need to demonstrate that a genuine vacancy is being filled.
In the short term, there is unlikely to be a significant shift in legislation concerning discrimination, TUPE, parental pay and leave, flexible working rights and redundancy provisions, but it remains to be seen what happens in the mid to long-term, particularly if the Government returns to a more domestic agenda once the Covid pandemic is dealt with.
The truth is that many of the certainties of the EU regime have now been swept away and business must be prepared for change in a way it has not been for several decades.
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