Richard North, 10/03/2017  
 


The more we explore Brexit, the more it seems we're gripped by a level of stupidity not seen since the First Afghan War, currently typified by those invoking the spirit of Thatcher and her handbag, in relation to the so-called "divorce bill".

But it's not the stupidity alone that is going to wreck the negotiations. It's the absence of any sense of peril, where those involved have about as much perception of the danger they're in as a three-year-old sticking a steel knitting needle into a live electrical socket.

Their (and our) problem is that they see the "WTO option" as a tenable fallback, bolstered by their rooted belief that the EU will not erect any barriers against us – all on the assumption that "they need us more than we need them".

And where there might be any possible hiccups, these will easily be sorted by ensuring that our exporters observe "EU directives", in those rare occasions where we can't convince those foreign Johnnies that British standards are the best in the world, so they can jolly well let us in anyway.

Sadly, the stupidity is not even confined to the British, as we see in an RTE report on the situation in Ireland, a series of mad assertions which go far beyond the realms of mere ignorance. On the matter of animal movements across the border, for instance, we are blandly told that these could be affected by Brexit, even that live movements could also be devastated by Brexit.

Every week in Ireland, around 10,000 pigs, and 1,000 bovines move back and forth across the border as part of the normal slaughtering and processing activity. This unhindered movement, says the report, can happen "because operators on both sides of the border comply with EU rules on animal safety, animal health and welfare, disease control and traceability".

But once Brexit happens, we are told, Northern Ireland farmers and producers will not be covered by those rules – unless Britain agrees at the end of a tortuous negotiation process to bind itself to such regulations (politically a very hard sell for Brexiteers). Therefore, the Irish co-operative movement (ICOS) is to propose to the European Commission, for example, that milk from Northern Ireland be designated as "Irish" milk, to get around these issues.

One barely knows where to start here. The free movement enjoyed arises not because of regulatory conformity but because Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, and Ireland itself, are both in the Single Market. Once the UK leaves the EU (and the Single Market), free movement of goods will no longer be enjoyed – even if regulatory conformity is maintained.

Thus, it makes little odds as to whether Britain "agrees at the end of a tortuous negotiation process to bind itself" to the relevant regulations. It will still be a third country and must go through all the hoops before it is allowed to export to the EU. And, of course, animals and products of animal origin must be routed via a Border Inspection Post – currently, either Dublin Port, Dublin Airport, or Shannon Airport.

As to the idea that milk from Northern Ireland be designated as "Irish" milk, to get around these issues – this is risible. The creation of a back door into the Single Market is precisely something against which the "colleagues" are on guard, and this could never be permitted.

Nevertheless, this mad idea is extended further by the Irish parliament Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It argues for Northern Ireland to be given "designated special status" within the EU, allowing it to access to the EU single market and all EU funding.

Speaking of this to a very good friend over in Ireland, I got back the same sense of exhaustion. The Irish press and politicians, I am told, are only just beginning to grope their way towards seeing all the problems with the UK leaving the Single Market.

A small example of the low base of information from which they operate came in January when one of the more "intelligent" newspapers was asking if the Government should use its veto over the final EU-UK Brexit agreement if it didn't protect border trade.

At the moment, there is no alternative but to endure this cacophony of Irish Brexit ignorance, in the certain knowledge that it is no better over here. In fact, it's worse. We have a culpable, wilful determination not to be informed, with that absolute sense that we can "handbag" our way through Brussels and get exactly what we want.

If we don't come a cropper on the money though, I am more and more convinced that it will be the customs issue which destroys any hopes of a pain-free Brexit. And, apparently, enough people recognise that for the Army to be working on a contingency plan for when the trucks cease to run.

In that context, I was looking recently at the written evidence submitted by the Freight Transport Association to the select committee on international trade.

The FTA observed that over the last 20 years, the number of goods vehicles travelling from the UK to mainland Europe had increased by 83 percent. This growth was expected to continue, with the average daily demand for freight movements predicted to rise to between 14,000 and 16,000 per day in the next decade.

It also observed that there had been repeated delays to Dover – Calais trade, for reasons such as bad weather, operational problems, industrial action and demonstrations, and, in recent instances, migrant action at Calais (Coquelles).

In cases of severe disruption, Operation Stack is put in force. This involves the emergency use of large stretches of the M20 motorway (in south-east Kent) to park freight traffic bound for the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover.

Between January and November 2015 Operation Stack was implemented on a record 32 days. This included three implementations each lasting five days. Further disruption arose in July 2016 when France increased the level of its security checks following the Nice attacks, this led to delays of 14 hours due in part to staff shortages. The FTA estimated the cost of these disruptions and related delays to the UK International Road Freight industry at £750,000 per day.

During the disruption of summer 2015, freight traffic volumes at the Port of Dover fell in the third quarter by 0.4 percent; while this may not seem a great deal, July is usually a very busy month and the year before in Q3 2014 freight volumes were up 9.7 percent on 2013. Similarly, in the third quarter of 2013, volumes were up 17.1 per cent on the previous year.

Thus, says the FTA, there are serious concerns within the logistics sector and international trade community that the ability to perform full customs clearance, both inbound and outbound, will be severely constrained due to the overwhelming number of vehicles using these ports on a 24/7 basis.

As recent disruptions have shown, even relatively minor delays at the border can cause gridlock on this heavily used transport infrastructure, and cause high costs to businesses and their customers.

The FTA has estimated that passport checks alone cost £1 per minute based on the vehicle not being utilised during the control. It is therefore highly probable that costs related to customs checks being performed at the border would be much greater due to time spent by customs officials to check goods against documentation.

The UK Chamber of Shipping cited a trial conducted in November 2014, in which the University of Kent monitored traffic flows and showed that the exit checks will almost double the average check-in time for most tourist cars and increase them by a third for freight traffic.

The model showed that with tourist and freight check-in transactions extended by exit checks, the queue for traffic heading for the port of Dover would extend at least 8.5km, blocking the A20 almost as far as Folkestone.

That is as far as it goes, so far, with more studies planned. But they do not take into account that action (or inaction) of customs authorities in the EU. But as we were indicating yesterday, their response to Brexit is likely to be pivotal. And rather than rely on the idea that they will do nothing to impede traffic, we should instead be asking why we think these authorities – and the French in particular – should do anything to relieve us of the consequence of what they believe to be our own folly.

In that, I suppose, lies the ultimate stupidity of those engaged formally in the Brexit programme – the inability to see an issue from the point of view of the other side. When it comes to customs controls, it really doesn't matter what we think. It's what these Johnny foreigners do that will make the difference.

For hot Brexit news, though, Sky News puts at its top slot, the price of Mars bars, with the headline: "Why Mars bar fans should hope Theresa May gets a good Brexit trade deal".

Yet, apart from Booker, nowhere have I seen in the legacy media a single mention of Border Inspection Posts. The pursuit of trivia drowns out all else. It is its own form of stupidity, in which the media excels. It borders on insanity.

But so impenetrable is this dire state that we almost need to see Brexit fail, just to show up the stupidity for what it is, and its inevitable consequences. Only then, perhaps, will people begin to realise that, yes, our media and politicians can be that stupid – and then do something about them.






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