Brexit Bulletin: Anxious times

Brexit Bulletin

What's Happening? Businesses are getting increasingly fearful as time and trust run short. The threat of chaos is looming.

We've been close to no-deal upheaval before, with several 11th-hour stays of execution. But the Brexit transition period expires at year-end, and those moments may have passed. As Stefan Nicola and Christian Wienberg report this morning, many executives are losing hope that a deal is coming. They are clear that they can no longer bank on the U.K. after it said it would renege on part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

As Dec. 31 gets closer, firms are starting to act. Manufacturers are stocking up warehouses and dusting off contingency plans they hoped they'd never need. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is moving about 200 billion euros ($230 billion) of assets to Frankfurt, a shift that will make it one of the biggest banks in Germany. A senior executive at the New York-based bank told Bloomberg this week that the 200 employees it's relocating out of London are only the "first wave."

The very practical consequences of Brexit are becoming clearer. The British government warned that queues 7,000 trucks long are a "reasonable worst case" scenario. Bumper to bumper, the line would stretch from the Channel Tunnel (also at the center of a spat) to the Palace of Westminster. And police will be on hand to fine truckers who enter Kent without the right paperwork. But truckers are unhappy, accusing the government of painting them as the "villains" of the piece. (If you want to see just how complicated the process will be, you can try our Brexit Border Game.)

Long queues are expected in Kent on the approach to the Port of Dover.

Photographer: Gareth Fuller/PA Images/Getty Images

Back in Brussels, chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost will resume talks next week. But nobody is expecting a breakthrough yet, even if Boris Johnson has called Oct. 15 the deadline for an agreement. Johnson's law-breaking manoeuver hasn't quite torpedoed the discussions; as one European Union official put it, the bloc will still start legal action, but will hold its nose and negotiate with the British all the same.

Quietly, though, officials are a little more confident a deal can now be done — if only because the resurgent coronavirus and looming deadline are focusing minds. But might it all be too late? Business isn't waiting for the answer.

Edward Evans

Beyond Brexit

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