At 11pm tonight, the UK’s membership EU formally expires. But what changes? Well, not a lot, for now, as the UK and EU have agreed a period of transition, so things remain the same until 1 January 2021.
From then, Britain moves on and here have a new, unique trading position which has us kind of in the UK’s and kind of in the EU’s economic regime and orbits.
Ahead of the UK’s exit, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier was in Queen’s University Belfast on Monday delivering some home truths.
He made it clear to the audience that Brexit means creating trade barriers which do not exist today. Putting barriers in the way of free movement of people and diverging on rules which were established to promote open and fair competition has consequences.
“The Agreement is precise”. “I know what is written in the Agreement”. He said.
Checks and controls are on their way, regardless of what Boris believes.
He reminded also us that last Summer the then new PM, asked for a permanent not a temporary solution, as was intended by the Backstop, to move the Brexit discussions on. Checks must take place somewhere, they agreed they couldn’t take place on the island of Ireland, so the only option left was to use the entry points in to Northern Ireland at our Ports and Airports. So our fixed, long term trading environment is set then, last Summer.
What has resulted is we have some of the benefits of being guaranteed access to both markets but with many of the burdens. This isn’t the best of both worlds, yet.
Our firms are going to have to manage new paperwork to send things to Britain. This we can manage, but the UK needs to stump up some money so businesses can train staff or transportation suppliers.
The big concern is that we can’t train GB suppliers who will be asked to complete complex customs declarations, be subject to checks, pay tariffs up front which they may or may not get back, delays and complexities that all add up to additional costs. We will have to pay and must assume current suppliers feel we’re just too difficult to do business with.
Those who make, move and merchandise products here have provided government with a list ways to repair the deal that Boris is now delivering. Derogation, mitigation, compensation and indeed representation on the key bodies which will manage the new barriers created in the Irish Sea.
However, in this there are opportunities. More local food producers should be supported by the big retailers to supply stores here and ultimately in GB. Our larger manufacturers and indeed Government buyers should be working with our firms to make and supply into them. With the right support perhaps our logistics industry could be supported to be a centre of expertise and develop solutions for those moving goods to continental Europe from Brexited Britain. And, our Councils and Invest NI should be speaking to businesses in GB and Ireland about coming to the North as a manufacturing location with doors which largely open into the UK and the EU.
We must also fully capitalise on the opportunity of the all-island economy through cooperation, coordination and orientating the NI economy to reach its potential based on our geographic, economic and new trading reality. Trade flows like water, it will travel along a route of least resistance. As cross border shoppers already know, it is essentially a naturally occurring process. So, maximising the benefits of our now unique access to the EUs Single Market and Customs , whilst working to minimise the new Irish Sea frictions is just common sense.
Our businesses need to be spending time now preparing for what comes in 11 months’ time. As Barnier said on Monday, the EU will never compromise on the integrity of its single market so the UK cannot expect high quality access if it does not want to compete on a fair basis.
Tonight will make no noticeable difference but we have a new normal hurtling towards us. Boris got Brexit done, for Britain. Our efforts now need to be on taking or creating new opportunities for our firms and the families that rely on them for work.