With only days, maybe hours to go, attention has focussed on whether Britain and Europe will do a deal on fish quotas, ‘the level playing field,’ and dispute resolution.
If there is no deal, imports and exports will become more costly and there will be deep disruption to many businesses.
If there is a deal, imports and exports will be less expensive and the flow of goods made a little easier.
However, deal or no deal, in less than one month cross-Channel trade will become infinitely more complex than it has been for the last 47 years. With coronavirus still raging, Britain is facing the bleakest of winters in the living memory of anyone born after 1945.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
A common reaction to what’s about to befall has been “no-one knows what will happen on January 1.” However, the details have not been hiding, just unexplored.
Firstly, there will be a huge amount of paperwork and few people who understand it. In addition to customs declarations (deal or not deal), rules of origin checks (deal or no deal), product safety certificates (deal or no deal), food inspections (deal or no deal), and so on.
Transport companies will be required to have a complete dossier of paperwork in order to pass through French customs controls.
Very significantly, most of the UK’s trade is carried by EU truck companies, 85 percent of the total volume. If they expect delays at the ports haulage companies may decide it would be better to deliver goods to other EU countries.
European hauliers are paid by the kilometres they travel, and not by the amount of time they spend on the road or in lorry parks in Kent on their return legs.
Thirty percent of Britain’s food come from the EU. Supermarket chains have been stockpiling non-perishable items, but in the winter months the country is very dependent on European fruit and vegetables, items with a short shelf life.
More platitudes are the order of the day from the UK government, which claims that by 2025 the UK will “have the world’s most effective border.”
The onus has been passed to UK exporters, who, according to the civil servant who is the permanent secretary of the UK Cabinet Office, speaking last week, said: “Business owners should make their final preparations before the new rules come into force.”
Alex Chisholm added: “Inevitably there are going to be some difficulties for some individual people as they adjust to the new regime.”
It is becoming increasingly clear that many individuals will face difficulties this winter.