The government will start automatically enrolling companies in a key customs system as it ramps up preparations for a no-deal Brexit
More than 88,000 companies will be allocated an Economic Operator Register and Identification (EORI) number in the next two weeks, the Treasury and HMRC have announced today, adding to the 72,000 firms who have already registered.
EORI numbers are used by non-EU member states to allow them to import or export goods into or out of the bloc, and Chancellor Sajid Javid said the UK was "accelerating its preparations" to leave the EU on 31 October.
Letters to businesses containing their assigned EORI number will arrive within two weeks, while traders also need to decide whether to apply for transitional simplified procedures to make it easier to import goods from the EU.
"There can be no time for delay which is why HMRC has allocated thousands of businesses with a trading number to ensure they can continue to trade their goods through Europe from day one,” Javid said.
"This will help ease the flow of goods at border points and support businesses to trade and grow."
But the announcement was given a muted reception by business groups.
Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: "If the nightmare of a chaotic no-deal Brexit on 31 October becomes a reality, our small traders will the first ones off the cliff.
"Overnight, small business exporters will have to contend with growth sapping tariffs and time consuming customs declarations.
“These businesses are the ones that need to prepare the most, so it is welcome to see the Government has listened to us and is taking concrete action."
The CBI – which represents larger firms – meanwhile said the announcement was "a sensible move" but "one of hundreds of things that needed to be done" to prepare Britain to leave the EU without a deal.
The announcement comes after ministers announced that UK officials will stop attending "most EU meetings" from 1 September, in a move the Department for Exiting the European Union said would allow them to "focus on our future relationship with the EU and other partners around the world".