The British government has decided to delay the implementation of certain Brexit border controls. These are mainly related to the food sector and were to be introduced at the end of the Brexit transition period.
They have been postponed to early October for some checks, and to next January for others.
At first glance, all of this is good news for Irish businesses exporting food to Britain. The introduction of these additional controls would have resulted in additional delays and costs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government decision is hardly surprising and was widely expected. But the extent of the length of the delays raises the question of when, if any, these controls will come into force.
For example, the requirement for export health certificates, which was to be introduced on October 1, will now be introduced next July. Phytosanitary certificates and physical checks of various goods at border checkpoints have been postponed by a deadline from January 2022 to next July.
UK Brexit Minister David Frost immediately blamed the impact of the pandemic and the pressure on global supply chains for pushing them back.
It looks like Brexit will be a long-term work in progress. Delaying these checks is good news for Irish exporters and serves a useful purpose for the UK government. Who needs more checks, delays and costs when there are already empty shelves in UK supermarkets?
In theory at least, the British could continue to renew these checks indefinitely. If they don’t want to present it, why not just keep moving the goods?
As a business exercise, Brexit was highly questionable. Much of the analysis has suggested the UK economy would be worse off with Brexit than without it. That doesn’t mean the whole place was going to collapse.
‘Get Brexit done’ was a fairly meaningless election slogan for Mr. Johnson. But it worked. This implied, in the vaguest way, that Brexit would happen under his government. It avoided what ‘doing it’ might look like.
Mr Johnson has secured the Brexit deal. But he still has to do it. Over time, it can become increasingly difficult to achieve much with Brexit.
For example, it gave the UK the freedom to enter into its own trade deals with third countries. The first big thing he did was with Japan.
This mainly allowed for continuity with existing agreements between the EU and Japan, but concessions had to be made just to maintain the orientation of this agreement.
The UK Department of Commerce estimated early last year that a ‘modeled’ trade deal “could increase UK GDP in the long run by 0.07 pc. He estimated that this could lead to a 21% increase in UK exports of goods and services to Japan, while imports from that country to the UK are expected to increase by 79%.
The benefits of Brexit were twofold. First, it gives the UK more freedom to make its own decisions and not have to be bound by EU courts. Second, by giving it the freedom to deviate from EU regulations and standards, if it wishes, it can conclude more advantageous trade agreements with third countries.
In theory at least, Britain has the capacity to compensate for some of the losses associated with exiting the single market and the EU customs union, by concluding more targeted, tailor-made and tailored trade deals. economy and its business objectives.
But these theoretical advantages can only be provided by moving away from EU regulations, standards and rules. It’s hard to see how he could strike a meaningful trade deal with Australia, the United States or Brazil on food imports from these countries if EU food products are simply ditched unchecked.
Australian, American or Brazilian exporters to the UK would like the same treatment.
It seems convenient that Mr. Frost would have to wait for the introduction of these controls for now. The Northern Ireland Protocol is still at stake with all the political consequences. There are real supply chain issues after Covid. There is also a shortage of truck drivers in the UK partly due to Covid but also Brexit issues.
Delaying these checks means differentiating the way the UK treats food imports from the EU from imports from all other countries. The British have had years to prepare for it.
What will be so radically different next July that will make things so much easier?
The delays could lead to real complacency on the part of Irish exporters. They may feel like they’re seeing the worst of Brexit right now and that’s something a lot of them can live with.
Convincing them to make all the preparations for next year can be difficult.
Likewise, a full hard Brexit, as envisioned or permitted by UK law, may not happen at all.
We could see a situation where the Johnson government won the last election by getting ‘Brexit okay’ and that was enough. Brexit could give the UK the freedom to do all kinds of things it won’t do at all.
Members of the UK are already talking about the Brexit disaster and how it will slowly reverse until the UK is back in the fold of the EU. Alternatively, Brexit can slow down or even freeze rather than reverse.
Such a result cannot be described as positive for our economy or Irish businesses. We have already seen the short term implications of Brexit and for some companies it is not good.
However, if Brexit is about establishing the freedom to do things that are not pursued, the whole mishap might not be as damaging as we initially feared.