Clare Francis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, was commenting on reports that a full session of the European parliament will not vote on whether to approve the final exit agreement until a session on 11-14 March 2019, just two weeks before the UK is due to leave the EU.
"Businesses intent on waiting for clarity on the detail of the Brexit deal before taking steps to prepare for Brexit need to consider whether the negotiating timetable permits this strategy," said Francis, a commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons.
"We are encouraging all businesses that haven't already done so to draw up plans for a range of plausible Brexit outcomes immediately so that they can take steps to manage risk. Businesses that don't take these steps risk quickly being overtaken by events and losing their competitive advantage," she said.
The European parliament and council will need to approve the final deal between the European Commission and UK before it can take effect. The agreement will first be scrutinised by the European parliament's constitutional affairs committee before it is passed to the full parliament, sitting in 'plenary', for a final vote.
Chair Danuta Hubner told the constitutional affairs committee that the parliament must vote during the 11-14 March plenary session, as "the second one [due 25-28 March] will be too late" for final scrutiny by the council of 27 EU member states, according to Reuters. Hubner also indicated that the European parliament would not want to endorse the agreement until it had first been passed by the UK parliament.
Hubner's comments show just how little time remains for the UK and EU to agree on the terms of the exit agreement while leaving sufficient time to complete the necessary legal formalities, Francis said.
Last month, the UK government published the first in a planned series of technical notices setting out the impact that a 'no deal' Brexit could have on businesses and consumers. The notices span a broad range of issues and sectors including financial services, the regulation of medicines and medical devices, importing and exporting, farming and VAT. Further notices are expected to be issued over the coming weeks.
Pinsent Masons' EU and Brexit expert Guy Lougher said that a no deal outcome would "be likely to have significant consequences and necessitate trading differently", underling the need for businesses to carry out "structured scenario planning in order to understand the potential implications for them of a 'no deal' outcome".
The UK government published a 'white paper' setting out its vision for its future relationship with the EU in July.