Noises Off Intensify
Ever since “the will of the people” was settled on 23/6/16 (except, of course, it wasn’t), the Brexit process has been a political one. The debacle of a government at war with itself over conflicting “visions” of what “Brexit means Brexit” actually entails and the inwards looking approach to “Brexit” for a domestic audience, oblivious to the facts that the whole world, not just the EU, is watching has long since ripped the veneer of competence from government.
As time moves inexorably towards the end of the two year A50 notice period and the last chances for an agreed departure (October or in the worst case December 2018) the UK still has to state its (deliverable) wishes to the EU; consider a mechanism to keep a hard border out of the island of Ireland; and provide workable solutions for post Brexit customs and non-tariff barrier checks outside the single market and customs union which currently obviate them.
Brexit is not a political process. It will affect the lives of many European citizens and all of the British citizens whether they live in the EU or the UK – it will not make these lives easier. The economic affects of Brexit will be passed on to the consumer, of course, but businesses will first need to deal with the new realities. Disruption to supply chains and access to the EU/UK market will inevitably cost jobs.
The latest “noises off” come from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) who have published a list of 23 “real-world” questions that they say need to be urgently addressed. The questions cover a range of topics from future customs requirements, regulations, tariffs and VAT levels. Will goods be delayed at customs ports of entry (presumably in either direction)? Will UK inspections on goods for export to the EU be accepted by the EU or need to be duplicated? Will businesses have the same flexibility to transfer staff around the EU as they do now? BCC have shown restraint at just asking 23 questions, obviously.
The BCC’s director general, Adam Marshall stated: "Over the past two years, businesses have been patient. Now, with the time running out ahead of the UK's exit from the EU, business patience is reaching breaking point. It's time for politicians to stop the squabbling and the Westminster point-scoring - and start putting the national economic interest first. These are not 'siren voices' or special interests. They are the practical, real-world concerns of businesses of every size and sector, in every part of the UK."
These concerns were met with the standard platitudes from a Downing Street spokesman: "We're confident of getting a good deal with the EU to ensure trade remains as free and frictionless as possible. Ministers continue to work closely with business to understand their concerns, and by successfully negotiating the implementation period with the EU until December 2020, companies can carry on trading with confidence on the same terms as they do now. We have put forward workable proposals to the EU on a range of areas from the backstop to security - and the White Paper, which will be published shortly, will continue to drive this process forward."
Whilst soothing, few people who follow the twists and turns of the Brexit process (and specifically, the EU response to UK proposals) will be reassured by the spokesman’s words.