Cumbria’s SMEs need to take immediate action to prepare for a no deal Brexit - no matter what the ultimate outcome of negotiations may be.

That was the message at a special breakfast meeting delivered by Newcastle-based solicitors Muckle LLP at Carlisle Racecourse yesterday.

Held in partnership with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the event featured presentations on the implications of Brexit and how businesses should prepare.

Solicitor Luke Donockley likened Brexit to being woken up and told you were going on holiday in five minutes, but being given no idea where you were going and what you needed to pack.

He said businesses were realising “our politicians might not have the answers to the questions over Brexit”.

He said Brexit would mainly affect small and medium sized businesses, which did not have the ability to react by moving offshore.

“If we have a bad Brexit, it might be you guys who have to deal with the fallout from that,” he said.

Even if the Government extended Article 50 to continue negotiating the withdrawal from the bloc, this would not take the spectre of exiting with no deal off the table.

It was still possible this would happen, just some months into the future.

If Britain reverted to trading on World Trade Organisation rules, this would not only have implications for trade tariffs but also for the regulatory demands put on businesses.

“What really matters isn’t the tariffs, it’s the regulations of the single market,” he said.

At the same time there were various scenarios that might come to pass in the event of a deal, with Britain being involved to a lesser or greater degree with the customs union and the single market.

Making preparations for no deal was the best way to ensure businesses were well placed to cope with any of the outcomes, he said.

To do so, businesses should set up a Brexit steering group to oversee their preparations.

This group needed to have a clear remit and terms of reference and focus on key issues that would effect the business, for example, regulatory compliance or employment of foreign workers.

It should consider whether the business should begin stockpiling certain materials, or plan to access business loans.

Businesses should also look at their own supply chains and consider how vulnerable their own suppliers may be.

At the same time, it was important to look at the opportunities that could arise from the situation.

“Some businesses will benefit from it, there’s no doubt about that,” said Mr Donockley. “If you are good at exporting outside the EU you can commodify that.

“You can diversify your business and open up new markets.”

He said one of the most important things was to check the technical notices the Government had published to advise businesses on the preparations.

Commercial lawyer Robin Adams said businesses also needed to look at the details of their contracts to see where they would stand if they could not fulfil them post-Brexit.

Some businesses were even inserting a “Brexit clause” into contracts relating to the adverse affects it may cause.

“Existing provisions in your contract might help you,” said Mr Adams. “But if you really want to protect yourself you need to sit down and work out what might happen and what the consequences might be and how you want that to be replicated in changes to your contractual provisions.”

Nearly 100 businesspeople attended the event, including Per Annemalm, managing director of Komatsu Forest Ltd.

The Swedish-owned company, which has a base in Longtown, employs around 30 people and imports and exports machinery for the forestry sector.

Mr Annemalm said the company had already begun preparing for Brexit.

“We just have to adapt to the new conditions,” he said “We have working groups, together with our mother company.

“We are as prepared as we can be, but it’s not certain. We are prepared for what we know, but we are looking all the time for new things appearing.”

He said, despite the inherent doubts of the situation, the session had proved useful.

“It’s good to get confirmation we are on the right track.”

Chamber chief executive Rob Johnston said the Government needed to recognise the importance of business to the country.

A recent survey by the chamber showed half of Cumbrian businesses had not started preparing for Brexit, he said.

He said: “I never expected to see a government that was so disinterested in where the money that runs the country comes from.

“I am having to remind MPs that the money that is paying for the NHS and the schools comes from a strong economy and that comes from the wealth creators.”