This was first published by The Times on their Brexit Briefing on 20 February 2020
About 7,000 lorries cross in and out of Dover and Folkestone every single day. Bumper to bumper they would stretch from Dover to Calais and back again. These lorries are a lifeline for our supply of food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables outside of the UK growing season.
Michael Gove recently, announced that there would be "customs procedures and regulatory checks" from January 2021. If the UK and EU strike a close and comprehensive deal by that time then this may simply mean certificates of origin, transit certificates, customs valuation documents and destination paperwork. Frustrating for many businesses no doubt, but manageable.
However, without a comprehensive deal and close regulatory cooperation the UK faces a sliding scale of checks and delays at ports across the country. Without coordination with the EU, businesses could be required to produce VAT and excise documents, export health certificates, freight documents, health and veterinary paperwork, and more. Each additional check introduces delays at the border and raises the costs for firms importing and exporting. So, what next? An Australia-style deal (essentially "no deal" with lipstick) would mean inevitable delays at the border as a result of checks.
We would face lorries being held in facilities that haven't yet been built; to be checked by trained inspectors and veterinarians who haven't yet been hired; who would scrutinise paperwork that hasn't yet been created; using IT systems that haven't yet been developed (or tested). Every piece of paper, every check, every new process has an associated cost. The more checks and red tape are introduced, the more these costs spiral. At some point it becomes impossible for hard-pressed retailers to absorb all of these costs and inevitably it is consumers who are left to shoulder some of the burden. But what is the solution?
The BRC released its Fair Deal for Consumers roadmap, outlining some key recommendations necessary to minimise the level of trade friction. We need to prevent new taxes on imports through a zero-tariff arrangement. We need coordination on compliance and regulatory issues to prevent some of the more excessive checks. We also need swift action to build and establish the necessary infrastructure and processes that will be used for remaining checks.
Providing that cool heads prevail, and pragmatism is allowed to thrive, the UK can achieve a deal that meets the needs of the public and the lines of the government.
By Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability