Since the 2016 referendum we have known the UK is leaving the European Union on 29th of March 2019. However, will it be a soft Brexit, hard Brexit, no-deal Brexit or will the authorities simply kick the subject into the long grass with an extension of the transition period? Unfortunately, the vast majority of businesses in the UK seem to be taking a “head in the sand” approach to Brexit and the potential changes to their business practices. So, what issues should you be aware of with regards to your website and your business post-Brexit?
It is fair to say that Remainers and Brexiteers are quite happy to highlight the benefits of their particular view while undertaking “project fear” when looking at the flipside of the coin. The simple fact is that even in the event of a no-deal Brexit the sky will not fall in, trade will not ground to a halt and we will not see food shortages in the UK. In a worst-case scenario, the UK will simply revert to WTO rules which effectively put in place default business tariffs. However, this does not mean that business owners can sit back – review your websites, your businesses, consider backup plans and make the necessary changes.
While it may be an old saying, there is no doubt that those who fail to prepare with regards to Brexit are literally preparing to fail. This is a perfect opportunity for small, medium and large companies in the UK to reinvent themselves. Why not prepare for the future and the raft of opportunities which will no doubt arise. If you wait until the last minute to review your Brexit plans you will have left it too late. Depending on the type of deal agreed on between the UK and the EU, there will be additional paperwork, additional authorisation and no doubt greater costs. By failing to prepare unfortunately many companies may as well be preparing to fail.
There is an array of issues to take into consideration with regards to your business and in particular your website. We will now review some of the more compelling issues which need to be addressed:
It was interesting to see that when the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into play in the UK many people left it to last minute to comply. A number of companies could have been looking at significant fines if the authorities had not been lenient. This was in the pipeline for at least a couple of years. But unfortunately, many businesses left it until just a couple of hours before implementation!
There are now specific regulations regarding the European Union population and websites which they transact with. Even though the UK, as a member of the European Union, adopted GDPR in its entirety, what will happen after Brexit? The easiest thing would be for the UK government to adopt a similar style of data protection regulations. This would require minimal if any changes to UK based websites and business. We await more news with anticipation.
While the UK government and European Union counterparts continue to try and find a way for seamless trade between the two regions, there will inevitably be an increase in delivery charges. This will work both ways and will mean websites will need to review their shipping costs and expected delivery times. Even though the UK government is adamant that a deal can be reached with their European counterparts, so far it has been difficult. So, UK businesses who deal with EU customers should at least start to investigate the potential for increased delivery costs. It may well be that international delivery companies you have used in the past may not be ready for the post-Brexit era and you may need to look elsewhere. Without stating the obvious, unless you can deliver goods to your customers how will you survive?
In reality Brexit will not lead to a whole raft of changes in the web hosting industry. However, the fall in the pound against the euro is making UK hosting services relatively less expensive than their European counterparts. As we touched on above, the UK government is likely to adopt an identical (or at least very similar) system to the GDPR structure introduced to protect information relating to European customers. There has been talk that the UK government may even go further than GDPR. It could demand that all UK based business data is maintained on UK soil. While unlikely, this is an important subject to monitor although in reality UK based hosting companies will be keeping customers up-to-date with potential changes.
On the flipside, UK companies who have operations in Europe are likely to see an increase in their hosting costs as a consequence of the weak pound. There may also be addition elements of red tape which UK parent companies will need to address depending upon the structure of a post-Brexit agreement.
UK and European businesses will likely require additional authority to transact in the future. In fact, many UK companies will need to review their website terms and conditions. These are the legal necessities which nobody reads; the fallback in the event of complaints but they do need to be clear, concise and cover all trading areas. When the EU, including the UK, introduced GDPR there were suggestions we would see a raft of court cases and legal challenges. Thankfully, common sense has prevailed. While there will be court rulings to clarify various issues we are likely to see a similar situation as the UK moves away from the European Union.
Unless we see a massive U-turn by UK politicians or the implementation of a “People’s vote” it is very unlikely that Brexit will be reversed. It may be watered-down, it may be “kicked into the long grass” but the people have spoken and democracy rules. So, the UK will leave the European Union. Those online businesses able to appreciate change, react and re-educate themselves about their key markets and clientele will grow. If you bury your head in the sand, hoping for the best, you may well fall foul of structural changes. Don’t let this be you, plan for trades between the UK and the EU.
So, ensure you have a structure in place allowing you to deal with European customers. Mirror the protections in place in their homeland and, perhaps most importantly, ensure you can deliver your goods as promised. Whether Brexit leads to an eventual break-up of the European Union remains to be seen. None-the-less the UK is an important trading partner of the EU and vice versa. Ongoing political brinksmanship may create attention grabbing media headlines. Yet, the real discussions and the realities of life after Brexit will be decided behind closed doors.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Expect the unexpected, prepare for the worst-case scenario and you should actually benefit from the opportunities Brexit will bring.