Boris Johnson promised in his general election campaign to “Get Brexit Done”. But when the UK left the EU on the 31st January, Brexit was far from done. The transition period has cushioned us from the reality of what leaving the EU will look like in practice. For the most part nothing has changed – yet.
The UK has no trade deal with the EU, and if no deal is agreed when the transition period ends on 31st December, we will be forced to trade on WTO terms from 1st January 2021.
Even if a trade deal is in place, and tariffs are kept to a minimum, there is still the issue of borders. At a time of international crisis our government will be actively choosing to put an end to frictionless trade with the EU, the world’s biggest single trading bloc, and our most important trading partner. Deal or no deal, the outcome will be an end to freedom of movement for both people and goods.
1. Border Delays
Lorries will be stopped for customs checks as they arrive from the EU, causing chaos at major ports across the UK, from Dover to Grimsby, London to Liverpool. There will even be checks on goods arriving into the mainland from Northern Ireland. Businesses exporting to the EU will also suffer, as their shipments will be subject to border checks on arrival at European ports.
2. Food supply and prices
Around 50% of the food we consume in the UK is imported, with over 10 billion euros worth of fruit and veg imported from the EU each year. During the winter months our reliance on imports of fresh fruit and vegetables grows even higher, with fewer UK-grown crops available to harvest. Introducing border controls will mean delays in fruit and veg reaching our supermarket shelves, limited choice, and higher pricing. Additionally, farmers in the UK may be able to supply less food than usual after a season managing shortages of workers because of Covid-19. A study by Oxford University in 2018 forecast that a no deal Brexit could result in 5,600 dietary-related deaths per year, as people struggle to cope with reduced availability of food and higher prices.
3. NHS and Social Care
Nurses, doctors, carers and other staff from EU countries are risking their lives to look after patients and the elderly here in the UK. Visas have been extended for these key workers in the short term due to the Covid-19 crisis, but the long term remains uncertain. When visas run out, there could be a mass exodus of workers returning to the EU if they are not granted settled status, leaving a huge hole in staffing for hospitals, medical centres and care homes.
4. Brexit negotiations
Two rounds of Brexit negotiations have had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. Timescales which were already considered tight prior to the pandemic are now widely seen as wholly unrealistic. The UK and the EU27 have more pressing concerns – tackling the health crisis and keeping the mortality rate as low as possible, while also doing what they can to mitigate damage to the economy. This is not the time to be dealing with the distraction of Brexit negotiations with an arbitrary self-inflicted deadline.
The planned timing for ending the transition period and truly leaving the EU could not be worse.
- Scientists and medical experts are warning that the UK, and the EU, will still be tackling the impacts of Covid-19 at the start of 2021.
- Brand new border controls would be introduced before retailers and freight companies have had time to get over the holiday rush.
- Companies are already warning that because of Covid-19 they will not be able to stockpile as they would otherwise have done in preparation for leaving the EU.
The UK’s last chance to request an extension to the transition is just a few weeks away, on 30th June. The government needs to act now. Join us in putting pressure on the government to agree an extension to the transition period and delay Brexit.