Sunday, February 28, 2021

Spectre of Brexit looms over Britain

In 'normal' times Brexit, and the disaster that is unfolding, might feature front and centre in the British media. However, the chaos and damage to Britain's economy by Britain's having left the EU is hidden by the ongoing pandemic which is leaving its own trail of destruction.

But hidden or not by the mainstream press, Brexit is already threatening to destroy businesses, affecting exports, slowing or disrupting imports and even taking business away from the UK's financial hub.

The government has insisted that much of the disruption only amounts to "teething problems". But those exporting fish, crabs and other seafood are telling an entirely different story.

Exporters who used only to fill out a single delivery note now have to fill in up to 70 pages of forms [BBC] . But it's not just the time it takes to fill in the forms, it's the cost that goes with it. Small firms in particular are not used to so much paperwork and have to farm it out to specialists which adds to the cost. There are also additional VAT charges applied by the UK government. This all results in a more costly product which makes Britain's products less competitive in the European market. Even David Cameron's wife Samantha publicly admitted that her clothing business is suffering because of post-Brexit trading difficulties with European countries [Twitter].

Fishermen, and particularly those selling mussels, oysters and the like to Europe are extremely miffed as to how things have gone. As a third country Britain cannot export live bivalve molluscs taken from class B waters into Europe without having processed them to cleanse them [Twitter]. The British media has labelled it as a shellfish ban, but the so-called ban always existed for third countries. The sticking point for Britain's shellfish exporters is there aren't enough purification plants. And even if there were, it is no guarantee Europe would necessarily take them.

Government adverts attempt to promote the benefits of Brexit, suggesting that the world is Britain's oyster. But for shellfish farmers there is no market outside Europe. Shipping live shellfish beyond the EU would prove impractical and costly. Furthermore such markets are unlikely to be open to new shellfish importers.

Opponents to Brexit have long maintained that opening up new markets would be a long haul and in many cases impossible to open up.

It is all well and good to suggest that Britain might sell its cheese to Japan or anywhere else come to that. But many such markets are already sewn up. Even if such markets had a strong liking for British cheese it is probable they already imported it anyway and Britain's leaving the EU isn't likely to increase their desire to eat more cheese.

Hardline Brexiteers such as John Redwood have suggested British fishermen merely sell their catch in the UK [Twitter]. But there is a catch here too. In terms of shellfish, purification plants are working overtime attempting to deal with cleaning up all those clams, oysters, mussels and scallops both for domestic consumption and export. More importantly Redwood fails to appreciate that most British people don't have the same appetite for the seafood that is exported to Europe.

Yes, of course there are some of use that would be happy to eat moules marinière regularly, tuck into platefuls of oysters, dine on octopus stew or munch through fresh whiting, mackerel, sardines, gurnard and red mullet. But the vast majority of Brits don't go for such fare. And when was the last time you saw such items in a supermarket or fishmonger?

The simple truth is, and was explained by remainers over the last 5 years, the UK exports most of its catch to Europe while importing Britain's favourites; cod and haddock.

Go to most fish counters in Britain and there is very little choice. Salmon, cod, haddock, sea bream, sea bass and prawns is often the extent of products on offer.

It's alright for arch-Brexiteer John Redwood to suggest fishermen sell their catch to Brits, but most would simply not buy it. And as such most retailers are unlikely to take the risk in purchasing such products given they'd be unlikely to move them [Scotsman].

Fish is only part of the problem. The bee industry is also reeling which could in turn affect agriculture if there aren't enough of the insects to carry out pollination [BBC / Sky News / Euronews].

Musicians and others in the entertainment sector have also found that Brexit will likely devastate their industry, making European tours cost prohibitive or choked with red tape [Classic FM].

And the City, already seeing business being lost, could further losses. Amsterdam ousted London as the largest financial trading centre in Europe in January as Brexit-related changes to finance rules came into force [BBC]. And a City AM report suggests London, at the heart of the UK's service sector economy, may lose up to £9.5bn in economic output a year from Brexit.

Reality is beginning to set in for many that far from sunny uplands, Britain is finding itself wading through a quagmire of red tape while businesses go to the wall, exports dry up and the economy, already severely damaged by the pandemic, looks set to collapse. The spectre of Brexit will loom over Britain for a long time yet [CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK