By Molly Pollock
“Ministers draw up secret plans to stockpile processed food in case of a ‘no deal’ Brexit” says the Sun headline.
So despite two years of prevarication and shambles, blaming the EU whilst refusing to listen to it, turning a deaf ear to business leaders, manufacturers, the medical profession, economists and others, Theresa May’s cabinet has decided to stockpile food. They’re doing this in the event of failing to reach an agreement with the EU over leaving the bloc. Some might wonder if no deal was the aim all along – it might explain their ramshackle approach to the negotiations.
Protecting the state from the people?
According to the article, the Government has 300 contingency measures rustled up in a desperate attempt to keep the country running after Brexit. On social media there is speculation the government has been actively planning for such a no deal scenario for four months, with intimations of what appears to be a state of emergency scenario – the army and police directed to protect government and other establishment buildings, nuclear power stations and food warehouses, with rationing of fuels and food. As a no deal affects all trade, all sectors of the economy and all society will be affected.
As part of a single energy market deal struck in the
wake of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland relies on electricity imports from Ireland. So, there is, according to The Guardian, even a plan for a flotilla of barges laden with energy generators to be sent to the coast of Northern Ireland to keep lights burning in the event of no deal. The scheme has been described as “potty” but does illustrate the Prime Minister’s determination to get her own way, irrespective of who suffers as a consequence.
It may be difficult to envisage this happening, but the prime Minister appears determined to get the deal she wants or to leave. No deal is better than a bad deal is morphing into a concerning reality.
These 300 measures include steps that will attempt to keep Britain’s food and drinks industry afloat. No easy task when much of the non-EU processed food we import comes from countries with trade agreements with the EU. Crashing out with no deal means that unless the UK government can persuade these countries to roll over the deals the UK will be unable to import any goods, including foodstuffs, under those existing agreements. There has been no word of these countries acquiescing to a roll over, indeed a few have said the UK’s departure requires a renegotiation as the UK market is considerably smaller than the EU bloc with which the agreement was reached.
Stockpiles have a ‘use by date’
So stockpiling may be the plan for the short term but it’s a strategy unlikely to last. Processed foods contain flavourings that come in from Europe. These flavourings, I understand, can be hazardous in their pure form, so an ADR licence is required to transport them. Under a European Agreement in order to carry dangerous goods ADR documentation is required and there is concern that this licence will no longer be valid for UK truckers after Brexit, especially if we crash out without a deal. This means much processed food couldn’t even be transported never mind gain access to the UK for stockpiling or otherwise.
Tories buzzing like angry wasps
We’ve all heard about the possibility, likelihood even, of problems at Dover as lorries queue for customs checks. Questions are also being asked about Holyhead, and the Channel Tunnel…and a replacement for Rotterdam, on which the UK depends heavily for deep water shipping from Asia. Rotterdam and its port are, of course, in the EU Single Market and Custom Union area.
Whilst the Tory government has been buzzing about like angry wasps intent on getting to the Brexit jam jar, the Irish have not let their green, green grass grow beneath their feet. Plans have been made to redirect trade from Holyhead, said to be geologically impossible to expand, and instead ferry trade direct to the continent, expanding Cork to become a new USA/EU bridge, with large new state-of-the-art ferries connecting Ireland with Spain and France.
The Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is by far the largest and busiest port in Europe, and is edged by motorways and railways for freight. Rotterdam is a hub for UK trade, a huge deep-water, highly efficient port that takes ships and their cargoes from China, the only port that can accommodate these enormous ships, then transfers goods, ranging from electronics to fruit, into smaller vessels for their onward journey across the channel to the UK. With Rotterdam within the EU single market and customs union, what happens when the UK leaves and finds itself with a mass of new regulations and customs forms to deal with?
Around 3,000 companies are sited at Rotterdam port, many with business contacts with UK companies. At present, as the UK is a member of the EU,
supermarkets here can order goods from the port up until 2pm for truck delivery at their warehouses by 5am the following day. So when we trundle around shop isles, shelves and freezers are stocked and we have a wide selection of products from which to choose. EU membership makes this fast turn-around possible, but with Brexit things will change, and there will be delays that could seriously affect the supply chains of UK companies. Under WTO arrangements increased trading barriers will cause mammoth border delays with our most important trading partners and could finish most Just in Time industries.
Deliver – on time fresh or late and perishing
With extended delays in Rotterdam due to increased checks and paperwork, port authorities reckon many more trucks will be required. Currently, tight supply chains, and minimum regulation at the port mean haulage companies can complete round trips in 24 hours, but with less streamlining this will not be possible so more trucks will be required to deliver the same amount of goods. If the turnaround time doubles because of additional checks and paperwork, then twice the number of trucks are required. Which brings us back to parking space for lorries. Rotterdam doesn’t have space and neither does Dover.
Rotterdam is preparing for a hard Brexit, and to cope with the problem Dutch customs is hiring 730 more officers for the port, a number which could increase, though they calculate the UK’s Brexit could cause a cumulative 50 per cent reduction in trade growth with Britain – a decrease which would be extremely damaging for the UK.
Brexit means Bureaucracy
Many business people believe the increase in regulations and customs documentation will impact disproportionately on SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises – the bulk of our businesses in Scotland).
Large companies will have, or will need to take on, staff to deal with the additional paperwork – logistics managers whose job it is to find their way through the regulations – whereas small export/import businesses who cannot afford or justify additional staff, will be crippled by more (not less) of that nasty red tape Tories are said to abhor – documentation (that most avid Brexiters, and most people are probably unaware of) such as T1 status and bonds, guarantees, certificates of origin, C88s, ATAs, Carnets, export entries (so UK can record export statistics). VAT, Intrastat forms, the list seems endless.
Then there’s the matter of the movement of live animals. The veterinary border control ensures live animals and animal products entering the EU are safe and meet import conditions. Imported live animals and animal products present a very high level of risk as they can transmit serious human and animal diseases, so, at their point of entry, they are subject to specific controls and checks, at designated and specially built BIP stations.
There is one in Larne none at the Irish border, Dover, Calais or Wales. BIPs are Veterinary Border Inspection Posts at which live animals and animal products must be issued with a Common Veterinary Entry Document (CVED). The only BIPs I found listed in the UK are Belfast Port, Belfast Airport, Bristol, and East Midlands Airport. So until new buildings and staff are available after 29th March 2019, if we still want to protect public health and restrict diseases, all live animals and animal products will need to be funnelled through these four BIPs. Can they handle the increase in inspections? Has anything been set in train to bring further stations into the process?
Customs declarations make a comeback
To further complicate matters HMRC will begin a phased launch of the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) possibly in August 2018. CDS will replace the existing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system, with all declarations taking place on CDS from early 2019, just before Brexit, but the new system is already behind schedule. The big question is whether it will be ready before 29th March 2019. CHIEF currently processes declarations to facilitate the international movement of goods between the UK and non-EU countries. It is one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated electronic services for managing customs declarations. However, it is nearly 25 years old and cannot be easily changed to meet new requirements under the Union Customs Code (UCC).
As infrastructure crumbles around us with nothing to replace it, how does the UK continue to function?
The UK has become a place of stagnation where, to escape the problems and austerity of the present, people as well as politicians want to turn back time to live in a past in which the harshness and poverty of lives is forgotten. An escape is sought from the present that truly is going to return us to a Victorian lower class standard of living. Tories seem determined to wave major industries goodbye, sacrificing them on the altar of the mythical ‘will of the people’ in order to ensure their right wing adherents and friends can reap considerable benefits through the use of hedge funds and tax havens, released from having to comply with the new EU financial regulations due to be introduced as we leave. Interesting timing indeed!
The vicious circle
Under Corbyn the Brexiter, Labour’s monotonous and monotone plea is for a jobs first Brexit, knowing full well there is no such thing. Jobs are already flooding out of the UK to the EU, with plenty more to follow. Few if any will make the journey in the opposite direction. Brexit means jobs losses on an industrial scale. With jobs will go trade, and with trade goes prosperity. Less prosperity means lower tax revenues and lower tax revenues means less money for the NHS and social care etc. The services we, and our families, depend on.
So as you stock up your cupboards, find space under the stairs and in the garage for tins of spaghetti, beans and spam, ask yourself if this was worth it. Ask yourself if you voted for a Prime Minister who in order to prove her strength and stability, her determination to show she can get the better of her own renegades as well as the EU, is willing to starve 60 million people to bend them to her will. Only it won’t be 60 million who suffer. While the rest of us keep an eye on the money in our purses, our falling bank balance, our dwindling stock of food, there will be many who will still enjoy eating out in the best restaurants (whatever the exorbitant cost after Brexit), who will live well, only occasionally having to call on their private health care, travelling by gas-guzzling cars while ours are in the garage as our fuel ration is exhausted: they will still enjoy theatres and holidays, designer clothes and vintage wines. They will still enjoy these things because we have let them destroy our standard of living and way of life.
Welcome to the impoverished past.
Of course Mrs May’s White Paper, which she wanted the Commons to discuss without MPs seeing its contents, may, in negotiations with the EU, become the basis to solutions to some of the problems raised, but I’m not holding my breath or raising my expectations.
Scotland has a lifeboat from this shambles. Surely we won’t be too afraid to use it.