The PM’s Brexit deal is the biggest one-off imposition of red tape a government has ever inflicted on businessby Jill Rutter / February 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
On 24th January 2017, then Brexit secretary David Davis was on his feet in the Commons explaining the government’s ambition for trade after Brexit: what it wanted was “a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have, but also enable my right hon. friend the secretary of state for international trade to go and form trade deals with the rest of the world, which is the real upside of leaving the European Union.”
Three years later, a speech by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove has shown the government has given up on half that ambition. Yes, it is keen on a raft of free trade deals with non-EU countries. But the government now accepts that comes at a price—of massive bureaucracy at the border. At a public event organised by its Border Delivery Group, Gove warned businesses that they have ten and a half months to be ready for paperwork, checks and controls on both sides of the border. “The UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union, so we will have to be ready for the customs procedures and regulatory checks that will inevitably follow.”
In fact, all he was doing was making clear what has been evident ever since Boris Johnson took the helm in the summer—that a “Canada-style” free trade agreement would come with “Canada-style” border checks. Only one problem: whereas Canada is over 3,000 miles away from mainland Europe and does not rely on cross-border supply chains to fill supermarket shelves, or load car or airplane parts onto roll-on-roll-off ferries, UK businesses do. When Theresa May was confronted with the consequences of seeking a distant deal with the EU, she chose alignment through her Chequers proposal. Johnson has opted instead for autonomy.
We have, of course, been part of the way here before. Last year, the government repeatedly warned of the need to get ready for Brexit—then a no-deal Brexit. What yesterday finally made clear is that from the point of view of border processes, the Johnson deal may deliver zero tariffs, but otherwise looks very like no deal—but for life, not just for Halloween.
In fact, that understates how much extra…