Richard North, 12/01/2021  

Yesterday was the day we'd been led to expect the first real signs of disruption at the Channel ports, as trade picked up after the Christmas break and the hiatus while shippers assessed the lie of the land.

As it happened, traffic was thin and twitter commenters were posting video feed of the Eurotunnel freight terminal showing a remarkable lack of lorries. This left frustrated lorry-watchers with little to report, leaving the might of the legacy media to focus on ham sandwiches confiscated by Dutch border officials.

Helpfully, the Guardian published a photograph of a ham and cheese sandwich for its many readers with learning difficulties, their journos no doubt chortling at the report of the Dutch official telling a bemused driver, "Welcome to Brexit, Sir".

That, it appears, is the level at which the legacy media are going to play post-Brexit stories, seasoned by the usual hand-wringing over "paperwork" which typifies this ITN report, illustrated by the visual cliché of empty supermarket shelves.

Elsewhere, when the Guardian had to illustrate another of its Brexit-related stories, it ended up using a frame of Dover harbour from 4 January – eight days ago.

The only thing marginally of interest in that report, covering a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) on business prospects. In this, just over a quarter believed exports to the EU would fall, with just 16 percent believing they would increase.

Illustrating the limited perception of the nature of the problems facing exporters, 47 percent of firms cited "customs delays" as the biggest risk. As yet, it seems, the concept of non-tariff barriers, which are keeping loads from being dispatched in the first place, has not yet impinged on the collective consciousness.

With this, it is becoming increasingly apparent (not that it wasn't before), that the "Brexit effect" is going to be a slow burn, with different sectors affected in their own ways, with the pace of the impact highly variable.

Fishing, obviously, has been first out of the stocks but the best and earliest reports are coming from the trade press, as in this article from Undercurrent News, which gave an early intimation of how the sector is facing the long-term threat of loss of EU buyers.

Another crisis waiting in the wings is international motorsport – and Britain's ability to compete in European circuits. A small sign of the impending troubles is reported yesterday by the trade magazine, Autosport.

This passes on a statement from British motorsport's governing body, Motorsport UK, which has outlined "the fees and process involved in transporting cars and equipment to Europe following the end of the Brexit transition period".

UK drivers and teams aiming to compete in Europe will now have to apply for an ATA Carnet - an international customs document – in order to transport cars or equipment temporarily to within the EU, paying a fee of £240 plus VAT for the processing of each carnet.

They must also pay a premium of 40 percent of the value of cars being shipped, which is refundable when the vehicles come back to the UK, or a non-refundable insurance premium to cover the 40 percent. This can cost as much as £624 for each £100,000 of cover.

However, as I wrote back in March 2017, applying for carnets is only the start of the problems confronting motorsports.

For an ATA Carnet, every item must be listed on the official form and, while a single carnet is valid for a year, once completed, they cannot be changed. Where there are multiple venues, loads vary so much that new applications are often needed for every event.

And, in the highly competitive environment of motor racing, while loading often goes on almost to the minute of departure – not a problem in the Single Market – to be on the safe side, applications for Carnets must be lodged 2-3 days before travel.

Nor does the Carnet remove the need for customs formalities. These include documentation checks and verification inspections, to ensure than all equipment is listed, and checks when they leave the country to make sure the carnet-holders take out everything they brought in. Such checks cannot avoid adding delays to the transport process which, currently, enjoys free movement without customs control.

Once the material has been allowed to enter under the temporary admission procedures, bizarre "red tape" provisions apply. For instance, once imported it must be re-exported within a variable time frame (down to three months in some circumstances). Furthermore, nothing imported on the carnet can be disposed of locally, without giving five days' notice and getting written permission.

Then, specifically, import of "consumables" is not permitted under the carnet system, so oil, fuel and lubricants, as well as tyres in some cases, must be obtained locally.

Any foodstuffs, including stocks held in mobile kitchens, cannot be included in the carnet, and have to be routed via a Border Control Post, after the issue of veterinary inspection certificates before departure.

This effectively means that the lavish hospitality services sometime supplied at racing venues – especially in F1 - including the provision of gourmet meals for VIPs prepared in central kitchens, can no longer be serviced from a UK base.

Nor is it just motorsport which is going to be affected in this way. Music gigs have already been mentioned in this context, but show-jumping, cycle touring, film-making, exhibitions and many other activities – sporting and non-sporting will be caught in the net.

In terms of motorsport, a number of UK-based championships and series organisers have opted to either not have any European trips during 2021 or delay them to later in the year. Part of this is to do with Covid-19, but the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has been a contributing factor.

For many operations, the added costs and complexities will doubtless reduce the opportunities to participate in European events and industries supporting these activities may also be threatened.

When, perhaps, the legacy media can get its head round the complexity of carnets, and what they entail, it might be able to tear itself away from on-the-spot reports about ham sandwiches and report on an issue which is going to have a long-standing impact.

Returning to yesterday's report about Starmer, he should be aware that this is another aspect of Johnson's deal that can never be made to work. Carnet carnage is going to be a feature of post-Brexit Britain, unless or until something better can be devised, if that is even possible.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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