Known Knowns and Not knowing What You Don’t Know

One of my favourite quotes from the Bush II administration (and there were a few) is the famous quote from then Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld who famously said:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.”

Reliable reports have it that with less than a month to go until the Brexit transition period ends, just one in five businesses have a good understanding of the risks and enough preparations in place, according to a survey by one of the largest accountancy firms EY. Many firms believe that after some initial challenges, business as usual will resume soon after 1 January 2021. In reality, whether or not the UK and EU succeed in negotiating a trade deal, there will be massive changes to the UK’s trading, regulatory and immigration systems. Business disruptions are guaranteed and it is still unclear how many new processes will work effectively.

Businesses that trade goods with the EU will be significantly affected, regardless of whether there is a trade deal. And getting ready for the new processes takes time. Businesses that trade with Europe will have to make customs declarations for, and pay the relevant tariffs on, goods moved between the UK and Europe. You may need to take advantage of one of the specialist services available to complete the often complex forms. Some businesses may be able to delay declarations and duty payments, but there are conditions.

Moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be subject to special rules under the Northern Ireland Protocol. Businesses involved in such trade can sign up to a free government trader support service but need to be preparing now.

There will also be new rules for providing services. If you rely on professional qualifications to practice in the EU, you may need to act to get them recognised by EU regulators. You may need a work permit or visa if you travel on business to the EU and Brexit will also affect the cross-border transfer of personal data.

It will be more difficult for businesses to hire workers from the EU. A points-based immigration system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and only businesses registered as licensed sponsors will be able to hire non-UK workers.

Opportunities to supply the public sector in the UK will be advertised on a new UK internet portal instead of on the EU Tenders Electronic Daily.

The UK will also leave EU intellectual property systems and this will affect how the rules for trademarks and designs operate. You may have to take steps to ensure your intellectual property is protected in your main markets.

So, returning to Mr Rumsfeld’s quote, I’ve come up with a shorter version: “Whilst I May Not Know What I Don’t Know, I Do Know What I Do Know” and the above represent just some of the known changes. It is essential that businesses watch out for announcements of changes to UK and EU guidance and be ready to act upon them. Further information on some of these issues is available at

Photo by KE ATLAS on Unsplash

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