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The Brexit Column: Dates for your 2019 diary

The Brexit Column: Dates for your 2019 diary

As Brexit moves within sight, Mark Essex helps pin down key dates over the next 77 days and what you need to do now to be ready right after the UK’s departure.

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Director, Public Policy

KPMG in the UK

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It has now taken physical form on your 2019 wall planner. The big red circle around 29 March is, literally, within sight. But what else should be written up there? This column is an attempt to fill in some of the blanks – both on the chart and in our thinking too.

First, let’s start with the political ‘roadmap’ that’s driven this whole process (even if it resembles more a faint pencil sketch than a printed A-Z).

The rescheduled vote on Theresa May’s exit agreement is now due on 15 January. Little has changed over Christmas to suggest the government will scrape together enough votes.

But it isn’t just the number of votes the prime minister is defeated by, (if that happens) but who inflicts the defeat. The list of MPs who vote against the government will indicate which parliamentary factions might be persuadable if a second vote is called in the following days. Don’t forget, John Major needed two attempts to get the Maastricht Treaty through the Commons.

Thanks to Wednesday’s parliamentary rebellion, the government will now have just three days from Tuesday to put forward its Plan B. This is the point at which opponents of Theresa May’s plan say Parliament ‘takes back control’. But to do what? It is not enough to simply be against a no-deal Brexit. Someone, somewhere, somehow has to come up with a plan that commands a majority. I’m still dubious as to whether a compromise can be found between supporters of a second referendum, a Common Market 2.0 option (Norway+) and any other proposal.

Much will depend on Labour’s strategy. Could their front-bench, (or a breakaway backbench group) be persuaded to support a heavily-amended motion with enough of their demands included? It’s not likely in my view, but don’t discount the possibility entirely.

Or, does The Labour Party try and unseat the government with a no-confidence motion after Tuesday? After all, the Opposition has a deadline of its own on 7 February. This is the last possible day on which the wheels could be set in motion for a general election to be held before Brexit Day. Although an extension to the leaving day would probably then be sought, from Feb 7 onwards Labour’s leverage ebbs away and the chances of an election recede rapidly.

Indeed, the whole range of alternative political outcomes starts to narrow at this point. It is the moment when political unicorns, of both a Brexiteer and a Remainer stripe, are quietly put down. We will likely be left with three simple possibilities: May’s deal, extension or no deal. 

We may not know which one wins out until the EU Summit on 21 and 22 March (and who would bet against it running even later?) as the EU and UK play an increasingly dangerous game of chicken. Deciding your company’s final plans for Brexit Day +1 at this point brings to mind sayings about deckchairs, ocean-going liners and icebergs.

What to do now

So by mid-February, even the most wishful of thinkers still out there should have abandoned any hope of imaginative ways through the crisis and be ready to engage in a final, flat-out medley of preparation. They will join others who will already have filled their Brexit PMO wall planner with plenty of internal company actions, alongside the big political set-tos so you are ready for life on Monday, 1 April (mercifully the 29th is a Friday so there’s a weekend’s respite immediately after exit). 

We set out most of the major tasks on your to-do list in our Brexit Navigator, but beyond the obvious preparations for a post-Brexit world, here are some immediate things to consider from 11.01pm on 29 March:

  • Have you planned for handling disruption?
  • Is your communications team prepped? 
  • Are your crisis management plans in order?
  • Can you handle large numbers of customer queries?
  • And crucially, are you properly staffed at this crunch point? 

Most important is having your key individuals around on the day. Whether they be senior executives, Brexit team members or just someone, however junior, who is essential to have around because of what they know or do, you may have to make yourself unpopular and decline some leave requests. 

I’m off for a week’s holiday on 10 April (with my new international driving permit just in case) on the basis that things should have calmed down by that point. Any short-term extension to the Article 50 and I face an awkward conversation with my family.

This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK. You can register for the email subscription list of this column and expert views from our Brexit leaders.

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