Rotting fish and carnage
For many the Brexit dream has already turned into a nightmare, writes Eddie Ford
Everyday the media reports on the problems afflicting various industries since Brexit Day on January 1 - most notably in fishing and road haulage. If we were to believe the government, the current delays and snarl-ups are merely “teething problems” that will be ironed out over time. But, as one wag pointed out, it feels more like ‘root canal surgery without anaesthetic’.
Hence we have had the phenomenon of lorries trapped in Britain, thanks to the extra paperwork now required by the Brexit bureaucracy, or - increasingly the case - European transport companies turning their backs on UK business because of the onerous new rules and regulations. Now, it might be the case that some of the issues being thrown up are transitory problems due to sheer unfamiliarity - which fucking forms do I have to fill out? But the underlying problems, and the hassle that comes with them - which could get worse over time, not better - are baked into Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. In other words, it is the inevitable consequence of leaving the European Union single market. After all, if Britain does not ‘diverge’ from EU rules and laws, then what is the point of Brexit and its dream of a buccaneering Britain making its own way again?
It was estimated way back in December 2018 that a hard Brexit would generate an extra 215 million customs declaration forms for businesses importing or exporting goods - with the average cost of each declaration something like £32.50, amounting to about £7 billion a year.1 Well, they certainly seem on target. Needless to say, this process of bureaucratisation is being mirrored in the EU - meaning some 430 million forms in total. Remember the ‘bonfire of red tape’ promised to us by the Brexiteers? For many the Brexit dream has already turned into a nightmare.
Just ask the haulage industry. It now has to provide tens of thousands of pounds in financial guarantees (‘T1s’) to cover tax or potential tariffs on arrival in Britain. For instance, a truck with a £200,000 cargo would need cash or a T1 guarantee document for £40,000 in value-added tax alone - an obviously significant burden for transport companies with multiple trucks going to the UK. In the second week of January the rejection rate for transport to the UK was up 168% on the third quarter of 2020 and had doubled in the first calendar week of the year.
If the customs declarations and the T1 financial guarantees were not enough, EU suppliers - like UK exporters - also have to provide a ‘Rex’ (registered exporter system) document to certify the origin of the product. Boris Johnson is dissembling like mad every time he says he struck a “tariff-free” agreement. Tariffs apply unless you comply, and can demonstrate you comply, with rules-of-origin requirements - which in some cases mean the UK has worse access to the EU than, say, Canada - rather ironic, given that the prime minister never tired of saying that he wanted a “Canada-style” deal.
Fish is now rotting in the docks thanks mainly to the requirement that all fish imports and exports must supply full documentation. One operator said he needed 400 pages of export documents for every consignment in order to enter Europe, including guarantees over rules of origin and health certificates. This has had an immediate and devastating effect on the industry, given that 75% of UK-caught fish is exported to the EU, and about a third of fish consumed in the UK is imported from the EU. As for the Scottish fishing industry, it is in total crisis. The industry’s biggest logistics provider, DFDS, a Danish company, pointed to delays regarding health certificates, issues with the IT system and incorrect or missing customs documentation. New Brexit rules require every box of seafood and fish to be offloaded from lorries and inspected by vets before it leaves Scotland, meaning that it has taken business owners five hours per lorry to obtain a health certificate - which is required to apply for other customs paperwork. Some fear the trade, worth more than £1 billion annually to Scottish businesses, could collapse.
Most people associated with the fishing industry voted for Brexit, of course, but very many now regret their decision. Fishermen regularly turn up on the TV or radio talking about “Boris the betrayer”, especially if they are from Devon or Scotland. No wonder fishing lorries descended on Westminster to stage a protest against the Brexit red tape, even if they stopped short of carrying out their previous threat to dump fish next to No10.
Private individuals are beginning to feel the impact of Brexit barely a month after it happened, European companies are now supposed to collect VAT at the item’s prevailing rate (in most cases 20%) at the point of purchase. Therefore British shoppers who bought items direct from European websites are facing demands of more than £100 in import duties that must be paid before parcel firms will release the items.2 Naturally, many of these European companies have suspended all sales to the UK - branding the new rules as “ludicrous”. It is not an easy task for British consumers to work out what duties are due, because the rate depends on the type of goods and their source. Alarmingly for some Weekly Worker readers, no doubt, the cost of a £12 bottle of wine in UK shops could rise by up to £1.50 a bottle because of the extra bureaucracy and charges affecting imports.
As widely predicted, though always strenuously denied by the British government, Northern Ireland has been hammered hard by the Brexit deal - which remains inside the UK customs territory, but adhering to EU customs and single-market rules to avoid a hard border with the Irish republic. As a consequence of drawing a regulatory zone down the Irish Sea - something that no British prime minister could ever consent to, according to Theresa May - most commercial goods entering the statelet from the British mainland require a customs declaration. This has led to serious shortages. Lorries were redirected to border control posts because they did not have the correct documentation, supermarkets withdrew hundreds of products from their shelves and online retailers refused to service the region. Friction everywhere.
Unimpressed, Ian Paisley Jr of the Democratic Unionist Party said it was “an insult to our intelligence” for Boris Johnson to describe disruption to trade across the Irish Sea border as teething problems. Rather, he said, Northern Ireland has been “screwed over” by the British government. Such is the nature of the beast, however, and the DUP refuses to accept any culpability for the mess - after all, it provided evangelical support for Brexit. The DUP is demanding that Johnson invokes article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which allows the UK or EU to act unilaterally if measures imposed are deemed to be causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
Rubbing salt into the wound, but with a perverse logic, small businesses are being encouraged by the department for international trade to register new firms within the EU to avoid the new costs and paperwork - which must be a splendid triumph for the Brexiteers.3 As only the blind fail to see, voting Brexit to get less red tape and more jobs was a big lie - like that red bus with its extra £350 million a week for the national health service!
The government fought hard for the right to diverge from EU standards for a reason, as communists are the first to point out - so they can attack workers’ rights and wage class war generally. To his end, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has announced a “review” of how EU employment rights protections could be changed post-Brexit - namely the hated working time directive which sets a maximum 48-hour week.
If you want to know what the Tories have in store for us, look no further than Britannica unchained - published in 2012 and written by none other than Kwarteng himself, along with Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Liz Truss.4 They were all elected in May 2010 and belong to the party’s Thatcherite Free Enterprise Group. This wretched book asserts that the UK has a “bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation” and states:
The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.
Having no time for woke PC nonsense, the authors demand that the UK should “stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie between manufacturing and services, the north and the south, women and men”. Our apostles of the free market want to secure by any means possible a low-regulation, low-wage, high-profit economy. If they were to get their way, this raises the grimly interesting question of whether the EU would use its right to retaliate against undercutting under the level playing field rules - a tariff war or sanctions?
It almost goes without saying that talks between the EU and the UK over contentious issues like fishing will continue for many years to come. Then there is the fact that the service sector, especially finance and The City, is completely glossed over in the Brexit deal - the British government coming up against its own artificial deadlines. Johnson is obviously hoping for a whole series of individual bespoke deals, as time goes by. Or what the Financial Times recently called “negotiations without end”.
In turn, some Brexiteers want a permanent counterrevolution against the EU and its institutions. Outlining his vision a year ago in The Daily Telegraph, where he impishly used faux Marxist language, Allister Heath thinks that Euroscepticism “remains an unfinished project” for the simple reason that the EU will still “boast 27 member states” and “will accelerate ever-closer centralisation”.5 Therefore, he argues, “no Brexiteer should be comfortable with abandoning Europe’s liberal, mainstream, pro-democracy Eurosceptics to their fate”. Whatever happens, “we mustn’t forget our comrades in our moment of victory”. Heath believes that the Eurosceptic movement is “only just getting started” because the “mission will not be over until the EU withers away” – don’t settle for anything less than total victory.
In response to the programme of the Eurosceptics, our communist alternative is for a united Europe democratically ruled by the working class - not the quasi-democratic, confederal EU that exists at the present. Meaning as a matter of principle that we opposed Brexit, but by the same token we stand for the abolition of the EU commission and council of ministers, of the treaties which require unanimous agreement of all member-states to amend them, and of the unaccountable court of justice.