One of the more amusing things about being an observer of Brexit is the confected outrage among the more strident anti-EU section of the British press whenever Brussels does anything untoward. They seem to take more interest now in the finer details of EU affairs than they ever did when we were members.
So it was this week when it became known that the EU planned to implement new entry/exit system (EES) requirements on 6 October 2024. This is the scheme to take fingerprints and face scans of non-EU travellers crossing the bloc’s external frontier which is expected to increase processing times and lead to big delays at border crossings such as Dover.
The Daily Mail’s apoplectic headline was:
However, the only ‘fury’ seems to be limited to the kind manufactured in The Mail’s Eurosceptic newsroom, scandalised over potential delays for plucky British holidaymakers in V-necked jumpers wearing knotted hankies on balding heads, trekking off to continental hotspots.
The paper says that “British and non-EU passport holders will have to go through fingerprint checks and face scans under the new EU Entry/Exit System (EES)” – as if British passports were somehow different to other non-EU passports, in a unique class of their own, and reserved for God’s happy chosen few.
The Daily Express, the tabloid equivalent of a nervous breakdown, declared:
Meanwhile, over at The Telegraph, they had a slightly more restrained but no less worrying headline for travellers next year:
There was no acknowledgement in any of the three reports of the key role the newspapers played in ensuring, demanding even, that British travellers faced delays at the borders with EU member states after Brexit.
It’s as if what they wanted was some sort of selective human non-return valve which only prevented non-Brits coming into this country from Europe, but allowed holders of foreign as well as British passports to pass back through the EU border “freely without let or hindrance”.
British exceptionalism has clearly taken another blow this week as another 18 downsides were added to the dossier.
The Brexit economy
Some of you may remember that one of Rishi Sunak’s five pledges back in January was to grow the UK economy. He won’t be pleased by today’s revised ONS figures which show the economy actually shrank by 0.1% between July and September (down from zero) and was flat between April and June, after it was thought to have grown by 0.2%.
We are flirting with a recession on these figures rather than expanding.
The future doesn’t look too bright either. Sunak has apparently given up on the idea of getting a comprehensive free trade deal with the USA and admitted the chances have fallen to “zero” under Joe Biden, according to Politico and reported by The Telegraph.
Post-Brexit Britain does not seem to be all that attractive to foreign investors. Figures obtained by the American financial services company Morningstar shows UK equity funds are on track to post their worst-ever year of outflows since the referendum in 2016, with the total withdrawn by investors reaching £80bn. Between January and October this year, UK equity funds lost £26.2bn, up from £20.5bn for the same period in 2022. Over the past three years, these funds have posted only two months of positive flows.
Hopes that UK exporters would soon find ways around new trade barriers were dashed after the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said two-thirds of UK exporters say selling to the EU has become harder in the past year with just 14% agreeing that the TCA was helping them to grow their business, while 49% disagreed. Exporters told the BCC about “ever-changing” and “onerous” phytosanitary requirements on food exports, “nightmare” paperwork and variations in applying customs rules.
Things have become so bad that even Belgium has taken pity on us. An initiative by the port of Antwerp-Bruges and others is trying to “make trade between Flanders and Britain as frictionless as possible”. The move follows a survey which showed 74% of UK companies said they had experienced “post-Brexit administration struggles”.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) say British companies are having to adopt “processes for weekly, and in some cases daily, monitoring of gas usage”, to provide the information to their EU customers, as required by the EU’s carbon border tax regime (CBAM). Taxes are to be imposed from January 2026.
The BCC is urging the government to seek simplifications to the reporting process and then to legally merge the EU and UK carbon pricing schemes to avoid this extra border bureaucracy.
The UK’s Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) says credit card companies Visa and Mastercard have probably raised fees to an “unduly high level” since Brexit, costing travellers extra in so-called “cross-border interchange fees”.
The regulator proposes setting caps of 0.2% for debit card transactions and 0.3% for credit cards, in line with the EU, for an initial trial period.
But, while visitors to the EU may save on credit card charges in future, they will probably have to wait considerably longer in border queues after the pan-European entry/exit system (EES) starts on 6 October 2024. Non-EU travellers to Europe will need to provide fingerprints and facial biometrics, sharply increasing the processing times at ports, rail terminals and airports.
Getlink is trying its best to help. The channel tunnel operator has announced the construction of a new £67mn processing area in Kent to handle non-EU passport holders when the EES system kicks in. The company said the new facilities would be able to process 500 cars an hour, still less than the present 840 cars per hour and prompting fears of long queues at peak times.
A campaign organisation for people impacted by immigration rules, is taking legal action over planned changes to immigration rules they claim amounts to being “punished for falling in love”. The new minimum income for migrants of £38,700 means many may be forced either to live separately or to leave the UK altogether.
The group, Reunite Families, will no doubt be pleased to learn the Home Office has already partially backed down by reducing the earnings limit to £29,000, with no date set for the higher figure to come into effect.
For those with family and friends in Ireland, sending gifts this Christmas will cost a little more, thanks to Brexit. The Irish Revenue website says VAT is now payable on all goods entering the EU “irrespective of their value”.
We may be out of the EU and not subject to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) but it is still affecting life in Britain. The ECJ has ruled that UEFA and FIFA were breaking competition law by threatening to sanction professional football clubs that wished to create a European Super League, a judgment that will impact the UK’s Premier League clubs even though we aren’t represented among the ECJ’s 27 judges.
Yet another trade body is urging the UK government to align with EU rules. This time it’s the British Beekeepers Association (BBA). It comes after new EU rules were introduced forcing honey suppliers to list the country or countries where it was harvested on product labels, which the British Honey Importers & Packers Association (BHIPA) claim are discriminatory and “overzealous”.
Lynne Ingram, the BBA’s honey authenticity ambassador, urges the government to adopt EU rules to avoid having to comply with two separate sets of regulations.
Minette Batters, the outgoing NFU president has told the FT that phasing out the EU basic payment scheme has left many farmers with lower payments than they had in the EU, while take-up of the new sustainable farming incentive has been low, with only a fraction of the 82,000 eligible farmers signed up. Large landowners are still benefiting disproportionately, according to Batters.
An online garden retailer that employs 250 people, was forced to give up a £10,000 export order to Ireland after falling foul of EU rules on soil types. CEO Mark Fane said:
“It’s death by a thousand cuts. We tried every which way to export the order but hit barrier after barrier. If you’re a big company, you grind your way through it, but it just gets to the stage where you can’t be bothered anymore.”
Fane said he was now focused on the UK market but was still supplying non-EU clients. “It has to be a bit ridiculous that we can supply the Middle East but not southern Ireland (sic)”, he said.
According to the FT, the UK government is under pressure to increase an offer of £2.5bn for Northern Ireland after all of the region’s main parties said it was too small to put the province’s finances on a sustainable footing. The cash is seen by some as a “bribe” to persuade the main unionist party, who object to the Windsor framework, back into the Stormont executive. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has told his party “much more will be required”.
Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas (NI-CO), a not-for-profit consulting organisation, set up in 1992 to manage international development projects on behalf of government departments is to close in March 2024 with the loss of 18 jobs. NI-CO said that because it can no longer bid for contracts under the EU’s multi-annual finance framework programme due to Brexit, it is no longer considered a going concern.