Small British businesses are being offered access to a £20m Brexit support fund from the government to help them with new trade rules following border disruption in the first few weeks since the UK left the EU.
In response to mounting criticism from business leaders over the impact of the new arrangements, the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, said the funding would help businesses adapt to the changes.
Traders will be able to apply for a grant of up to £2,000 each to pay for practical support for importing and exporting. The grants will also help companies prepare for additional import controls that are due to come into force from April and July.
“The government has listened carefully to the issues raised by the business community through the Brexit business taskforce, and that’s why we are bringing forward this financial support to help small businesses adapt to the changes to our trading relationship with the EU,” Gove said.
Suggesting that businesses could now “seize new opportunities available to a fully independent, global-trading United Kingdom,” he said the targeted funding would help small businesses get more of the practical support they need to adjust to the new processes, and prepare for further checks on EU trade.
Additional UK import controls will be introduced in April and July as part of a staged approach to the changing post-Brexit rules.
The move comes days after the government sought to defend its record on Brexit after freight industry leaders claimed exports to the EU nosedived in January, following the end of the transition period on 31 December.
Half of British exporters to the EU are facing difficulties and higher costs for import and export activities due to mounting red tape and border disruption, according to a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce published on Thursday.
The government said overall freight flows between Great Britain and the EU in the last week had reached 98% compared with the same time last year, that there was no disruption at ports, and that compliance with the new rules remained high. Official trade figures for January are due to be published next month.
Business leaders broadly welcomed the new support fund, but warned that further action was required to address bottlenecks and red tape that still remain and which are adding substantial costs to doing business.
Stephen Phipson, the CEO of Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “These are more than teething troubles which, if not addressed, threaten to become permanent structural barriers.”