“Teething problems”

“Teething problems”

 “The bill for Mr Johnson’s Brexit is coming in,” said Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer, and it is “a punishingly steep one”. Some of those who are wailing about the new order deserve little sympathy: Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, for instance, who were “lusty sponsors of the great experiment with the UK’s prosperity” – or the Leave-supporting singer of The Who, Roger Daltrey, who joined a chorus of rock stars furious that the new visa rules make touring in Europe so much harder. But the bill is being paid by many others too: by the fishing fleets in Scotland and the West Country, which are tied up because they are unable to export their catch; by the farmers whose meat is rotting at European harbours; by the Welsh ports whose trade is being diverted to France and Spain; by the City of London, from which billions of pounds worth of transactions has disappeared; by the small businesses which are overwhelmed by the red tape now involved in exporting to Europe. The cost of the paperwork alone is estimated at around £7bn per year. “Welcome to Brexit.”

Leaving Europe was meant to free British business from the burden of EU bureaucracy, said The Guardian. Instead, it has embroiled exporters in a tangle of new customs declarations, conformity assessments, rules of origin certifications and VAT demands. Furthermore, any attempt to deregulate our economy – employment rules are now being reviewed – is likely to provoke a retaliation from Brussels under the “level playing field” provisions in the Brexit deal. The volume of freight traffic is down almost a third on this time last year, said The Times. Some of this is certainly due to Covid and “teething problems”, as Johnson argues: companies had little time to prepare for this last-minute deal. But many new obstacles are permanent. Businesses will have “to adapt to this new reality.”

“The disruption is greater than the Leavers expected,” said Hamish McRae in The Independent – but that’s partly because some in the EU want to hurt Britain “by creating silly bureaucratic hurdles”. The French, in particular, have a history of using non-tariff barriers to keep out imports. In time, though, such protectionist ploys usually fail, because they’re not in consumers’ interests. And despite the turmoil, there are still reasons to be “glad we’re out”, said Ross Clark in the Daily Mail. Just look at the fiasco of the much-vaunted “pan-European” vaccine programme. The EU is lagging far behind the UK, partly because its regulator has been slow to approve vaccines, and partly because it has chosen poorly: it invested heavily in the vaccine made by France’s Sanofi, allegedly under pressure from Paris, but this won’t be ready until the end of the year. Under fire, Brussels has reacted by threatening to ban vaccine exports to the UK. This combination of “nationalism, bureaucracy, inefficiency and bloody-mindedness” should remind us that, in many ways, we’re better on our own.

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