A top Tory minister has sparked a furious backlash after he accused businesses of having their “heads in the sand” about preparing for the end of the Brexit transition later this year.
Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew, addressing company bosses, said “it’s their businesses at stake” if they fail to ready themselves for stringent new border checks when the transition period ends on 31 December.
He accused firms of being slow to prepare because of coronavirus and the accompanying recession, urging bosses to be more “energetic” about getting ready for Brexit.
‘Not as ready as they should be’
Given that government border systems are not yet ready and there is no clarity about whether a trade deadline will emerge with the EU, Lord Agnew’s comments drew an immediate backlash.
He told the Commons Treasury committee: “There has been a head in the sand approach by traders which has been compounded by what I would call the quadruple whammy of two false alarms, so two extensions at the very last minute, then followed by Covid, and now followed by the recession. The traders are not as ready as they should be.
“And if there’s one headline I hope that comes out of this appearance today it’s to send another shot over traders’ bows to warn them that it’s their businesses that are at stake from January 1 and they really must engage in a more energetic way.”
‘That’ll go down well’
Food and Drink Federation chief Tim Rycroft leapt on Lord Agnew’s remarks, saying: A ‘head in the sand approach by traders’? That’ll go down well.”
Labour peer Stewart Wood added that the comments were “spectacularly unfair”. He said: “A ‘head in the sand approach by traders’ to the upcoming end to Brexit transition is a spectacularly unfair characterisation.
“The many traders, entrepreneurs and businesses we have spoken to in our Lords EU committee work have been pleading for guidance, clarity and timelines for months.”
Michael Gove last month published a “reasonable worst case’ scenario which warned that there could be queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent if businesses do not adequately prepare for the new checks and requirements.