Brexit is damaging British international trade with European Union (EU) countries and the situation may worsen as the pandemic is left behind, transit of goods and passengers returns to normal and new controls are introduced. A report by Parliament’s Accounts Committee (PAC) sharply criticizes the way in which Boris Johnson’s government is handling border traffic and customs controls following the UK’s exit from the EU. Increased checks, red tape, delays, have negatively impacted costs for businesses and reduced trade with the EU.
“New controls imposed on the movement of goods from the UK to the EU have imposed additional costs on businesses and affected the flow of international trade,” says the report, published just hours after Johnson appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg MP as secretary of state ‘for Brexit opportunities’. The parliamentary committee recalls that the Government had promised that leaving the EU would be liberating and allow optimizing productivity for businesses, but the reality is very different. “It is time for the Government to be honest about the problems (of Brexit), instead of promising so much,” says Meg Hillier, chair of the Committee.
Daily queues of goods lorries west of the port of Dover in Kent these days reach 10 kilometers, according to Highways England. Some messages on social networks spoke of queues three times as long at the French port of Calais. In the future the situation may be even more serious. At the moment Brussels applies health and customs controls to products coming from the UK, something that Johnson has instead been extending for the import of products from the EU.
These strict inspections are due to come into force in September, when a greater movement of visitors is also expected. Ports such as Dover may “grind to a halt” according to Logistics UK, one of the UK’s largest freight forwarding associations.
Its manager, Sarah Laouadi, notes that carriers will need to get out of their vehicles to check their biometric passports, cross port and terminal traffic. “It’s not only going to create security risks. It will also have a severe impact on the time it takes to cross the border, with a cumulative effect on traffic flow on both sides of the Channel,” she told the Financial Times.
The government “should now focus on preparing EU international trade operators and shippers for the import controls that will be imposed throughout 2022” the commission recommends. “Around 15% of businesses, some 90,000, are unfamiliar with international customs formalities as until now they only traded within the EU. We must be sure that when the time comes they know what to do.”