Although the UK has left the EU, significant change will only take place after the transition period has expired and the UK has moved to a new relationship with the EU. The UK Government has a choice as to how quickly that change happens. Going fast allows the Government to claim that it is delivering on its core promise to "get Brexit done" – but risks a significant shock to the economy. The Government has (outwardly at least) given the impression that it leans towards a "fast" Brexit. Does the coronavirus outbreak change this calculation?
Problems with a "fast" Brexit
A "fast" Brexit would mean that the UK would have third country status vis-à-vis the EU in relation to all aspects of its trading relationship from 11 pm on 31 December 2020. This will be a major change for many businesses, which arguably poses a significant economic risk.
To take just one example, requiring supply chains to comply with customs formalities and checks is envisaged under both a "deal" and a "no deal" scenario. This is a very significant change as compared with the current situation, where (for example), HGVs arriving in Dover or Calais carrying EU or UK goods enter with minimal checks and no customs-related formalities at all. Indeed, in some respects, the red tape aspects of EU-UK goods trade would be more onerous under a "deal" scenario because in order to benefit from preferential tariffs, proof of origin documentation would be necessary (in addition to the standard customs-related formalities). To make this change as smooth as possible, work would need to have started on construction of new customs infrastructure and the details of exactly how the system will work in relation to high volumes of roll-on roll-off traffic would need to be shared with business now (to enable business to be fully prepared). However, so far as the UK is concerned, there does not appear to be any immediate prospect of either of these steps being taken in sufficient time for a reasonably orderly "switchover" to a new system on 1 January 2021.