After rushing, pleading and bullying its way through the rude negotiations on Brexit (“British exit”) and Trexit (“transition out of transition”), it now appears to insist on having its sovereignty pie and so too to eat. How could one explain the complaints from British politicians and commentators who object to the European Union, which is carrying out controls on British goods that are reaching its borders? A few weeks ago, the right-wing press in London was delighted with the relatively small disruption to ongoing trade with the continent after the end of the transition period. Where, they mocked, are the miles of traffic jams in the canal’s seaports and English retail stores filled with empty grocery shelves? Where, they laughed, are the legions of international passengers stuck in airports or the army of corporations shutting down when their supply chains disappear?
Conveniently, all of that snooping of course ignored the dramatic drop in cross-border trade and demand caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and EU-wide lockdown restrictions on UK stockpiling of European goods that took place in the months leading up to the December-January closing time , the traditional post-Christmas traffic lull that can be seen every year and the initial commitment of various EU Member States to provide a slight response to the new EU-UK trade regime. These conditions are now starting to change and the British chatter classes are starting to howl, accusing “unfair” EU bureaucracy, “red tape” and “petty form filling” for “picking” “English trucks” and drivers at the entrance points into the European Union. Once again Greater England shows its remarkable ability to believe that it has the right to determine the manner of its access to the territories of other nations while it reserves the right to determine the manner of such other nations access can get to his own territory. Which is at least historically consistent.
Political correspondent Sam McBride outlines for the newsletter some of the disastrous local effects of all of this:
An 11-page report to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove featured in the newsletter reveals the dire prospect of a “NI supply chain breakdown” within five days if ministers do not act urgently.
In the report sent to the Cabinet, Road Haulage Association (RHA) executive director Richard Burnett warned that after just eight days on the Irish Sea border, there are major difficulties getting products from the UK to Northern Ireland.
And that warning admits reports that since January 1st, customs officials on both sides of the Irish Sea have effectively ignored the movement of goods with partial or incorrect forms and records. As Tony Connelly notes for RTÉ, this anomalous situation cannot be sustained.
It’s early days and there may be many Irish importers, EU exporters and UK traders who will continue to operate as they have done so far in the hope that authorities in the ports will take a pragmatic approach.
However, such an option is not sustainable in the long term. And because these complications will also apply to Northern Ireland because of the Protocol, the fallout there will be riddled with political toxins.
We are only at the beginning of the new era of relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom and it is likely that the situation will get significantly worse before it gets any better.