Who would have thought putting in place the import controls inherent in a hard Brexit border model might end up costing UK businesses over £1bn a year, and constitute an ‘act of self-harm’ in a time of rising costs and supply chain difficulties?
Surely not the government’s new Brexit opportunities minister, one of the original true believers in the Brexit cause? Yet, in his written statement to parliament last week, those were exactly the reasons given by Jacob Rees-Mogg for a fourth delay in implementing measures to reciprocate the ones UK exporters to the EU have been facing since the beginning of January last year.
Adding in the cost of those measures and the resulting loss of trade in both directions from leaving the single market, it is not hard to see how the independent Office for Budget Responsibility came to conclude in October last year that Brexit would reduce the UK’s long-run GDP by around 4% relative to remaining in the EU.
But to borrow one of Rees-Mogg’s own favourite quotes (from the 14th century anchoress Julian of Norwich): “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well”. As Rees-Mogg wrote, leaving the EU means Britain has regained the right to manage its borders and can now design a completely different approach based on creating “an ecosystem of trust between government and industry and other transformational projects”, using new technologies to deliver “the world’s best border on our shores” – some time between now and 2025.
In the meantime, businesses have been told to stop preparing for the changes that were meant to start in July, but to carry on doing the things that have already changed up to this point, notably in respect of customs procedures and the need to pre-notify shipments using IPAFFS, even though the associated controls on arrival will no longer take place.
You really couldn’t make it up – except they just have.
Spare a thought too for port health authorities, who have been building new facilities and hiring and training extra staff they will now not need – not to mention the time and effort already committed by businesses on top of all the other pressures they currently face. Plus the lack of a level playing field between exporters and importers for the foreseeable future. All shall be well? That really is an act of faith.