Border delays may be made worse by more red tape yet to come into force

Brexit Free Trade: Teething Problems or Total Disaster?

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It’s believed that the Brexit free trade deal forged between the UK and the EU is the first in history that sought to build barriers rather than take them down. 

So just how ‘free’ is the deal? Has the COVID crisis managed to simultaneously muddy the waters when it comes to the freedom of movement of both people and goods?

Here’s the lowdown on some of the most pressing issues:

These are only the ones that have made the news in the past week. Stories about the pandemic have forced many of them on to the back pages.

The European Commission is claiming that the Brexit negotiated by Boris Johnson will cause a loss in gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of next year of 2.25% in the UK. It reckons the cost to the EU will be around 0.5%.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says half of British exporters to the EU are having difficulties with an increase in red tape and disruption at borders. That’s happened since the beginning of the year as British companies grapple with huge changes and extra costs.

Amsterdam is now ahead of London as Europe’s largest share trading centre. It previously held sixth place as an exchange centre in Europe. There are fears that more City jobs could be lost as a result. 

Brexit free trade deal has created more red tape for UK exporters
More red tape for UK exporters [Image: Luca De Gregorio, Shutterstock]

In Northern Ireland, businesses are demanding an extension to ‘grace periods’  for Irish Sea border checks. At the moment EU regulations on customs and product standards are not yet fully implemented on GB to NI trade. The time taken to cope with the changes in January means businesses are going to find it tough to be prepared for yet more change in April.

The BBC’s Watchdog slot this week highlighted customer frustration in Northern Ireland because John Lewis, along with other big names, are no longer taking online orders for delivery to Northern Ireland.

Some Unionists in Northern Ireland are furious that the ‘border’ down the Irish Sea is diminishing their identity and tying the province closer to Dublin. British expats living in Europe and who identify as European have long voiced similar sentiments, albeit in reverse to those felt by Unionists.

Rowcliffe, an English cheese wholesaler has decided to stop selling to the island of Ireland altogether due to post-Brexit trade rules. It claims the new processes mean it’s now unviable to export perishable goods. It says redundancies are inevitable.

Next up, a perfect storm due to the impact of Covid and post-Brexit bureaucracy threatens to plunge British pig farmers into a brand new crisis. That’s according to the National Pig Association. Delays due to ‘excessive bureaucracy’ and new rules on exports mean there are tens of thousands of animals in the UK unable to enter the food chain. 

Also this week, a company selling live lobsters and crabs to Europe has said it’s going under because of new post-Brexit regulations. Baron Shellfish said its business was no longer viable.

Another company that exports fish to the UK says it is becoming overwhelmed by paperwork despite being ‘ready for Brexit.’ Until the end of December 2020, the process was simple with each shipment needing a delivery note, made up of just one or two forms. The new reality is over 70 pages of paperwork for just one truck of fish. A small mistake or omission can now mean a consignment is held up, potentially jeopardising the freshness and saleability of the fish being transported.

Has the COVID crisis managed to simultaneously muddy the waters when it comes to the freedom of movement of both people and goods?

At the same time, the man in charge of Britain’s biggest retailers says Brexit has turned out to be ‘considerably worse’ than he feared. Peter Cowgill, chairman of JD Sports, claimed delays and the red tape in shipping goods to mainland Europe has led to ‘double-digit millions’ in extra costs. He’s even considering opening up an EU-based distribution centre to ease the problems. 

The situation appears to be just as bad for British supermarkets which have outlets in Europe. They’re facing supply issues due to post-Brexit rules on exports to the EU. That’s adversely affecting fresh produce at 20 Marks and Spencer stores in France. A chain of UK supermarkets in Belgium is on the verge of collapse having had no deliveries since December.

Music stars including Sir Elton John and Radiohead have been piling pressure on the government over problems around post-Brexit EU touring. UK artists are going to be faced with red tape and fees for visas to play in EU countries. Irish singer Ronan Keating came out and said all this would be ‘devastating’ for the live music industry, and especially for newer acts.

Residents in Guston, a village near Dover, have been left fuming following the district council’s decision to support contentious government plans to convert fields next to their houses into a Brexit customs clearance park for over a thousand lorries. 

Some Unionists in  Northern Ireland are furious that the ‘border’ down the Irish Sea is diminishing their identity and tying the province closer to Dublin

Grim Reality

COVID-19 has also put huge restrictions on people’s freedom of movement. That’s inevitably meant a delay in the realisation of the grim reality that will face UK citizens wanting to live or work in the EU. 

David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator lays the blame for continuing UK-EU tensions at the door of Brussels. He’s listed a series of niggling border issues. Looking at things from a different perspective and the UK seems to be getting exactly what it wanted. 

It is having to face the tangible consequences of its pursuance of precious sovereignty. Sovereignty by its very nature implies isolation and with that comes borders and red tape. Brexiteers long bemoaned an EU bloated with red tape in Brussels. They have now arguably exchanged that for red tape of their very own in England’s channel ports and down the Irish Sea. 

[Header image: Ivan Marc, Shutterstock]