Covid-19 is a force majeure that should have delayed Brexit

Accountant Chris Conway of Multiply Accountancy details his frustrations over the failure to delay Brexit and his hopes for 2021.

From the moment the UK officially left the EU and entered the Transition Period, Brexit took a backseat while the world battled a pandemic.

However, while the country wrestled to control the spread of Covid-19 and accountants frantically tried to stay on top of the Government support measures, the clock counting down to the end of the transition period kept ticking.

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Naturally, responding to the impact of the pandemic and the Government measures will have been the priority for most accountants throughout 2020.

Clients and advisers have spent months trying to get to grips with and stay on top of new allowances, calculations, grants, JRS vs JSS vs SEISS, and new submission deadlines – and it’s not over yet.

Now, against a backdrop of social and financial hardship, as well as legislative turmoil, the UK’s businesses are facing another wave of legislative upheaval and economic uncertainty.

Why common sense should prevail

In recent years, the accounting industry has seen the introduction of MTD for VAT and the iXBRL tagging of accounts to support tax returns.

These changes took years to implement, were delayed from their proposed launch dates and were not without their challenges once they went live. But they are insignificant by comparison to the scale of the changes Brexit brings.

I fear the UK is woefully underprepared for this.

Without doubt, the sensible approach would be to accept the obvious force majeure of the pandemic and push it all back a year. But,  presumably, that would be bad politics.

The overwhelming feedback we’ve had from clients is a certain level of despair that those trumpeting the virtues of Brexit are nowhere to be seen when it comes to the details of accounting for VAT on B2C EU sales in 2021 (for example).

Why accountants can still succeed in 2021

If Covid-19 has taught accountants anything, it’s how to adapt, react quickly under pressure and be valuable to clients.

The skills developed throughout the Covid-19 crisis will be essential again as the changes from Brexit occur.

How accountants approach the challenges of 2021 may well define the relationships they have with their clients for years to come.

Now isn’t the time for us to abdicate their responsibility, manage their risk and simply direct clients to the nearest government website link. The best accountants will identify those clients affected and engage with the issues they are facing to help their clients be ready.

Staying up-to-date with developments is essential and collaborating with other experts (where necessary) to achieve the right outcome for clients should become the norm. For businesses in some sectors, the supply chain disruption, additional working capital requirements and increased administration will take very careful planning to navigate successfully.

2020 was a tragic year for many and a difficult year for most.

2021 offers reason for optimism over combatting the virus, beginning the economic recovery and returning to normality.

Challenges are a given.

But accountants can be a key part of helping clients overcome. So we’d better act now.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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