The latest tactic of love bombing the great British public with world-beating claims of Tory government greatness came in a Brexit package this week, sexily called the Benefits of Brexit.
In what is the mother of all battles for Boris Johnson to get #Partygate gate off the front page, the prime minister also announced a new bill, the ‘Brexit freedoms’ bill, which promises to cut any red tape that still remains post Brexit. My colleague Anthony Robinson has written extensively about this elusive ‘red tape’, including in this article from a year ago. He concluded that the promised cuts simply can’t be made; in fact, self-inflicted post-Brexit red tape is increasing, not decreasing.
Brexit freedoms bill and cutting red tape
The Guardian quoted Johnson as saying, “Our new Brexit freedoms bill will end the special status of EU law in our legal framework and ensure that we can more easily amend or remove outdated EU law in future”.
This will no doubt come as music to the ears of haulage bosses and those who do business with Europe, who have been waiting since 2016 for some Brexit ‘freedom’. Or Brexit benefits. Or indeed, freedom from anything to do with Brexit.
As Johnson was trying to persuade us that Brexit really was the best thing since sliced bread (even as news came in that the cost of food has soared in the last month) the Independent’s Adam Forest was giving a more honest explanation to the lorry queues lengthening at Dover:
“Drivers, customs agents, freight forwarders, union officials and even the Dover port’s own chief exec have all pointed to customs checks as the reason for delays … Even longer delays have been experienced on the French side at Calais because of the extra red tape needed for imports from the EU into the UK since 1 January.”
Impact of Brexit customs checks this year
From 1 January, exports between Great Britain and the EU became subject to full customs controls following an initial grace period that allowed both sides time to prepare and put new systems in place. The reality is more bureaucracy not less. And that red tape slows everything down.
On 19 January, Highways England were reporting queues stretching back six miles west of Dover. The BBC interviewed John Shirley, who runs a freight-forwarding company. His assessment of the situation was simple:
“For us, the government is staging Brexit bit-by-bit … That’s caused all sorts of headaches for people, they don’t know the paperwork properly or haven’t prepared themselves – that’s what’s causing the delays here.”
Business Matters reported the queues being miles-long around Dover – regularly stretching 12 miles. Now Highway’s England has apparently been instructed to identify a suitable site for a vast lorry park, to act as a holding area and ease congestion around the Port of Dover and the gridlock on the A20.
Brexit impact on ports and the Great British land bridge
Sixfold is an online platform that allows the logistics, haulage and shipping industry to track what’s happening to supply chains across Europe.
Its live map shows sea-crossing times and delays at the borders in real time. For example, it is currently showing that for goods crossing from Hull towards Rotterdam the average time is now 45 hours rather than 21 hours. That is the time between the arrival at the port of origin and departure from the port of discharge (across all trucks, trailers and containers crossings between these ports). The actual sea journey remains unchanged, but delays at the points of departures and entry have doubled the time spent crossing.
Loss of ferry traffic between Wales and the island of Ireland is a further, unpredicted, Brexit impact. Currently, Holyhead and Fishguard are experiencing between 30 and 50 percent less traffic due to Brexit.
On 23 January, the boss of Stena’s UK ports, Ian Davies, told the BBC this reduced traffic was down to the new post-Brexit trading relationship with the European Union rather than the pandemic:
“I think now we’re probably in a position to say yes, this is really the effect post-Brexit of where we are and slight changes in the way that people are moving freight.”
The Great British land bridge to Europe is no longer cost effective
In the past, goods destined to Europe from Ireland would cross from Dublin or Belfast to Holyhead or another Welsh port, before heading to the channel ports to get to northern France. It was quicker and cheaper to use this ‘land bridge’ than going directly to the continent by ferry.
But Brexit has changed all that. The harsh reality of customs delays and border controls has led ferry operators to seize an opportunity. Now there are direct services from Dublin and Rosslare on Ireland’s south-east coast, to Dunkirk or Cherbourg in France, bypassing the UK entirely. Local economies around the ports of Wales are suffering as a result.
Looming on the horizon is yet another problem. As it currently stands, the new border checks that will be introduced in September will mean travelers have to exit their vehicles to undergo biometric checks, leading to the possibility of 17-mile tailbacks, according to CityAM.
Brexit benefits still elusive
No wonder the government had to publish its Brexit Benefits document this week, because most of us have yet to actually experience any.
According to the government, there are indeed a great many benefits to Brexit, most of which are concept, aspirational, or ‘all mouth no trousers’:
“Control of our democracy, borders and waters; control of our own money, helping us to level up across the country; the freedom to regulate in a more proportionate and agile way that works for our great British businesses; benefits for people that put money back in their pockets”.
Control of our borders is a debatable point. But what is unacceptable is that nearly six years after the referendum, things are still not in place to help us trade with Europe – or even travel to Europe.
“Our ambition is to make the UK the most effective border in the world by 2025 and reduce the cost of trade by streamlining trader interactions with the UK’s border agencies”, claims the document. But if it’s not working now, what on earth is going to change in the next three years? Is Chris Grayling suddenly going to reappear and make everything better?
It’s time to out the real benefit cheat
In an attempt to reassure us, or blind us with world-beating rhetoric, the government says, “We are investing over £1 billion over the next three years in transforming border technology and operations to accomplish this”. Bit late, given we left the EU two years ago.
Not to worry, the government will apparently be running pilot programmes to test technologies that will deliver end to-end frictionless trade. If these new technologies are anything like track and trace, they will be:
- given to a minister’s mate who owns a pub in his local village.
You can love bomb us as much as you like prime minister. It’s not working any more, and neither is Brexit. There is still no evidence of benefits, just plenty of hot air and quite a lot of that stuff that Huw Merriman stepped in earlier this week. For a party that has long been associated with naming and shaming benefit cheats, it is time the Conservatives outed the ultimate cheat of them all – their leader.