Ministers blew £15 million on a four-month advertising blitz to prepare businesses for post-Brexit without using the “B” word once.
The campaign, launched as the Government was accused of failing to do enough to help companies get ready for the new trading relationship, included dozens of adverts for TV, radio and online which didn’t mention Brexit a single time.
The word ‘Transition’ and the slogans ‘The UK’s New Start’, ‘Check-Change-Go’, ‘Time is Running Out’, and ‘Let’s Get Going’ all featured prominently in the Cabinet Office-approved commercials.
Labour analysis shows that a total of £15,175,618 was spent from 1 July to 31 October on the publicity campaign, including at least three adverts designed for viewing on TV and online, 18 designed for radio, and 75 designed for Facebook.
Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry said: “It’s vital that all our businesses and the general public are properly prepared for Brexit on January 1, so it seems utterly bizarre and self-defeating for the government to have spent all this money encouraging people to get ready, without actually mentioning the thing they need to get ready for.
“Whatever problems occur at the end of the transition period, the Government is gearing up to blame businesses for not being properly prepared, but in reality it’s the incompetence, bad planning, and last-minute decision making from Downing Street that has put business in this position.”
Boris Johnson said yesterday that leaving the EU’s trading arrangements offered the chance to “transform our country” as businesses adjusted to the new bureaucracy.
But business leaders have accused the Government for failing to give them enough time, or clarity, to prepare, leaving it to the 11th hour to sign a deal with the EU.
In his New Year message, Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said: “It is unsurprising that small business patience ran thin as deadline after deadline for a ‘deal’ passed without clarity.”
He added that many firms now needed Government support and advice to help them make the most of opportunities presented by Brexit.
But he warned: “But shooting for the moon requires rocket boosters, both in terms of clear guidance, and practical as well as financial support that fully reflects the needs of all our small businesses.”
The first lorries crossed the Channel heading for Europe following the UK’s historic departure from the single market.
There was little sign of disruption at the border as freight travelled to France and Ireland on a quiet bank holiday after the new arrangements came in.
Lower trade volumes on the New Year’s Day bank holiday meant there was little disruption from the additional red tape that now applies on exports to the EU.
Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover both reported that services were running “very, very smoothly”.
But Calais region’s customs director Jean Marc Thillier warned the arrangements would face a “trial by fire” when traffic flows increase after the holiday weekend.
And lorry parks were being opened in Kent ahead of long queues and disruption expected next week.
Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said the change in trading arrangements with the UK will inevitably cause disruption.
Under the new arrangements, freedom of movement rights end and, while UK citizens can still travel for work or pleasure, there are different rules.
Holidaymakers heading to the Continent post-Covid are now potentially faced with longer wait times at airports curbs on duty-fre and the return of data-roaming charged.
They also face a raft of new fees and charges including higher travel insurance premiums, bigger mobile phone bills and more red tape for travelling with pets.
Meanwhile, the two sides of the Brexit debate remained as far apart as ever with Nicola Sturgeon urging the EU to “keep a light on” as Scotland will be “back soon”.
Nigel Farage tweeted a picture of himself raising a glass with the words: “25 years ago they all laughed at me. Well, they’re not laughing now.”
French president Emmanuel Macron used his new year’s message to say that while the UK remains a “friend and ally”, Brexit was born of “many lies and false promises”.