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Thursday, 30 November 2023
Life after Brexit
Ian Black

Less than three weeks after Britain finally agreed new trade rules and regulations with the European Union, UK consumers who had bought goods online from the continent were shocked to discover that they had to pay extra just to have their items delivered. Brexit, suddenly, had a price for individuals and companies. Brexit

 Shoppers who purchased items from EU websites are facing demands of more than £100 in import duties that have to be paid before parcel firms will deliver them to their homes.

 Amidst the misery of the covid pandemic and its record death toll, Britain’s Conservative government is now facing a flurry of complaints that life outside the EU is not matching the promises that were made around the most divisive issue this country has faced since the second world war.

 On December 30 Boris Johnson stood triumphantly in the House of Commons and proclaimed the rebirth of Britain as an independent nation, with tariff-free trade with the EU after the year-long transition period ended a day later. “We are going to open a new chapter in our national story,” he declared as MP’s approved his deal, which was secured on Christmas Eve after months of nerve-wracking negotiations with Brussels.

 New requirements have already put thousands of specialist online businesses at risk as consumers on both sides of the English Channel balk at having to pay hefty import fees. These unwelcome novelties fuelled doubts about the claim that “global Britain” will prosper outside the EU – the world’s most successful single market with nearly 450 million people.

 And it is not just critics from the Labour opposition. Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May, attacked him for abandoning Britain’s “position of global moral leadership” on the eve of the inauguration of Joe Biden as US president by threatening to break international law during the Brexit talks and by cutting the UK’s commitment to devote 0.7% of GDP to relieve poverty.

 Alarmingly for Johnson, it is becoming clear that Biden will prioritise dealing with the enormous damage covid has inflicted on the US economy before embarking on any new free trade agreements. A former British ambassador to Washington predicted last week that the UK would be “lucky” to strike a trade deal with the US over the next four years.

 The prime minister, who was referred to by Donald Trump when he was president as “Britain Trump”, is keen to establish a good working relationship with Biden, who the government hopes will attend the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.

 In a rare moment of candour Johnson admitted that the deal with Brussels “does not go as far as we would like” for financial services, which employ over 1 million people and constitute a whopping 7% of British GDP. But what does that matter when Britain, as he routinely expresses it, has succeeded under his leadership in “seizing back control”?

 Johnson won the election in December 2019 on the simplistic pledge to “get Brexit done.” He was able to benefit from the ambivalent position of Labour and ended up with an impressively large majority in parliament. UK membership of the EU has always been a toxic subject since it joined the then European Economic Community in 1973. But many voters were simply fed up.

 The reality of life outside the EU is only just starting to sink in. Attention has focused on the fishing industry, which accounts for just 0.1% of the UK economy, but that is relatively easy to understand – especially when protests involve huge trucks breaking the national lockdown and emblazoned with angry slogans outside the House of Commons. Meat prices are also plummeting due to delayed exports.

 Another issue is complaints by British rock stars that their European tours could be wrecked by post-Brexit visa rules. Big names like Elton John have protested that they were “shamefully failed” by the government over the increased red tape facing musicians at the border of each individual EU member state.

 In Northern Ireland – with a special status because of its proximity to Ireland, which  remains in the EU – there are logistical problems involving new border checks with hauliers complaining that these caused shortages of food, deliveries of equipment to the National Health Service and farm machinery, despite claims by the government that it was all going “smoothly” or that these were simply “teething troubles.”

 In one case a lorry load of potato crisps was held up for two days because the owner was unable to provide paperwork proving that the potatoes had not been imported into the UK from somewhere else. Another haulage company described the situation as “absolute carnage.”

 And a row erupted about the status of the EU’s ambassador to the UK, with Johnson’s government insisting it will not give him and his 25-strong mission the privileges and immunities afforded to diplomats under the Vienna Convention. That position was described as an “insult.”

 But in these dark times there is occasionally light relief. Leading Eurosceptic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg declared in parliament he thinks fish are “better and happier” because Brexit makes them more British. At least that!! Brexit