Brexit is the most fundamental change to the fabric of our economy and society in a generation.
I voted remain in the referendum and along with 70% of my constituents, of which nearly 14% are from Europe which is over three times the national average. I said in my maiden speech that Brexit is a monumental act of national self-harm, and I still think that it is.
However, whether we like it or not the result of the referendum has been honoured and we have left the EU. The vehicle chosen to transport us through this seismic change is the Government’s the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
I voted for this deal. I voted for it because it was sensible thing to do, because it was in the national interest and most importantly because it was the only thing standing between us and a catastrophic no deal exit which would have decimated the economy and community in Wandsworth. In fact, I polled my constituents before the vote last year and 65% believed voting for the deal was the right thing to do.
I was under no illusions that this was a bad deal. But the onus is on the Government to work hard to make it work and improve it.
Unsurprisingly, they are failing miserably.
In fact, a recent Opinium poll found that 53 per cent of the UK thinks Brexit deal has ‘created more problems than it solved.
The Government, on the other hand, seem to think everything is sunshine and roses. I asked Jacob Rees-Mogg last year whether we can we have a debate on the impact of Brexit and a region by region report and his response contained the following words:
“Brexit prayer…Brexit song…Gloria in excelsis Deo…happy fish.”
So in the absence of a grown-up discussion in the Houses of Parliament on the most important deal of our lifetimes, here is how I would grade the Government’s performance so far:
The Economy and Trade: FAIL
Recent analysis commissioned by The Independent from top academics at the University of Sussex UK Trade Policy Observatory found that all of Boris Johnson’s new post-Brexit trade deals put together will have an economic benefit of just £3 to £7 per person over the next 15 years, and this is according to the government’s own figures.
This amounts to just 0.01 to 0.02 per cent of GDP, and less than 50p per person a year.
And it is dwarfed by the economic hit from leaving the EU, which the government estimates at 4 per cent of GDP over the same period. In fact, official estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility point to a Brexit loss of more than £1,250 per person over the coming years – more than 178 times the most optimistic prediction for the benefits from the trade deals.
It is having a really detrimental impact on small businesses too. The European Movement in Wandsworth & Merton surveyed 119 local businesses on the impact of Brexit and found that roughly two thirds of businesses who responded were not well prepared for the big changes in trading conditions at the start of 2021, and a similar proportion also anticipate that they will not be trading at normal levels by the end of the year.
Respondents also typically cited problems with staff shortages, supply chain issues, customs administration and charges and 91% of respondents who expressed an opinion either way stated that the new Brexit regulations have had a negative effect on their business.
This is hardly the “new dawn” we were promised by Boris Johnson.
Movement of Goods: FAIL
The Government’s deal puts all sorts of barriers in the way of British exports to the EU. These include customs declarations, safety inspections and health checks on key exports such as livestock and seafood.
Johnson’s deal makes trade harder between the UK and the EU, leaving UK businesses struggling to stay competitive. Exporters must now even prove their goods’ origin for them to be exported tariff-free to the EU. None of this applies to members of the single market.
Further still, British exporters are facing an avalanche of new Brexit bureaucracy – additional paperwork, new costs, and hidden delays, which are estimated to cost UK exporters over £25bn a year.
The situation is gravest for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who are bearing the brunt of these Brexit changes, and account for three fifths of private sector employment in the UK, and around half the turnover.
A recent survey by the Institute of Directors for Channel 4’s Dispatches found a total of 13 percent of exporters said their trade with the EU has fallen by up to 100 per cent since the beginning of the year.
A really clear example of this I have seen locally and spoken to constituents is the issue of Plant Passports. You can read about this in more detail here,
Whilst being a member of the EU, the U.K. approved and accepted the EU plant passport which enabled plants and associated goods to flow across the border without any requirement for an inspection. One constituent of mine who owns a horticultural business did this without issue for 20 years. Switzerland is not in the EU but uses the EU plant passport system.
EU growers and nurseries would get phytosanitary certification that their plants were good quality and healthy and once issued with a plant passport the plants could travel freely to any of the EU member nations.
Now we have left the EU, UK authorities have decided the EU plant passport is no longer valid. Since January 1st 2021, each consignment (as small as one box or as large as a full truckload) needs to be inspected and have a phytosanitary certificate.
All these additional costs, bureaucracy and paperwork is costing local plant importers tens of thousands of pounds and is leaving truckloads of fresh plants rotting in lorries.
Confusion reigns at our customs borders. But there is one border in particular which the Government has made an even bigger mess of and that is the new border down the Irish Sea…
The Union: FAIL
The Northern Ireland protocol came into force on 1 January and mandates checks and controls on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is because under the Brexit compromise to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland remains in the UK but is also, for trade purposes, in the EU single market, which means EU customs and standards checks still apply on goods entering the region.
However, putting an effective customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea has angered many pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland who believe that the Protocol has already breached the spirit of the 1998 peace settlement by cutting them off from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Not only that, but it is choking Northern Ireland’s economy. As of last month, 200 retailers had stopped delivering to Northern Ireland and Marks & Spencer had withdrawn its entire click and collect range for Christmas “because of the uncertainties in delivery timetables”.
So what are the Government doing? Trying to re-negotiate their own oven-ready deal (less than a year in), which they complain the EU is applying too rigidly. There is even rumours of triggering Article 16 which would suspend the protocol altogether – despite the EU’s general proposals to cut customs paperwork by half and eliminate 80% of the checks on food.
In short, the Prime Minister appears to have skim read over the details of his own deal and is now surprised that it did not work. But it is too little, too late. Rather than having his cake and eating it, the Government needs to get a grip compromise with its EU counterparts.
People and Public Services: FAIL
Sadly, since we have formally left the EU so have many of our European brothers and sisters, who feel like they no longer want to call the UK home. Last 200,000 EU citizens decided to leave the UK last year.
This has been mad even worse by the many issues with the EU Settlement Scheme. I have been helping several constituents who have had problems, which range from lack of a physical document proving settled status, the tight deadline of June 30 earlier this year for all applicants and the fact that some people who get settled status are covered by the withdrawal agreement, whereas others are not.
To quote Kate Smart, chief executive at Settled, a charity supporting Europeans living in the UK: “There’s going to be massive problems, massive problems for years to come with various aspects of this scheme”
The loss helps perhaps explains why Britain is experiencing chronic labour shortages that are leading to empty shelves at stores, pushing up prices and threatening the recovery from the pandemic recession. From HGV drivers, to strawberry pickers, to doctors and nurses, the UK seems to be facing labour shortages across many different industries.
This includes many key workers who are the backbone of our public services.
For instance according to Independent Age, the social care workforce gap produced by Brexit has been estimated to range from 350,000 people in the most favourable scenario, to 1.1 million people in the worst-case scenario by 2037, depending on levels of migration from the EU.
And according to the Royal College of Nursing since 2016/17, over 13,000 established EU nurses have left the register compared to just over 4,000 who left in the two years preceding this.
And In May 2019, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) revealed that 51% of EU-trained nurses cited worries about Brexit as a key contributing factor to leaving the UK register
These are shocking figures and demonstrate how the Government’s shambolic implementation of Brexit is pulling at the seams of our communities and hollowing out our public sector workforce.
Another issue is voting rights. Now we have left the EU, resident EU citizens without British citizenship cannot vote in UK Parliamentary Elections despite having lived here for years. This is just not fair and the recent Elections Bill does not address it at all.
Overall Grade: FAIL
Since he passed his deal a year ago, the Prime Minister has been lazy, incompetent, regularly does not do his homework, and frequently turns up late. He seems to think he got everything done last year.
All in all, he needs to work a lot harder if he is to make Brexit work for our country and stop the damage his botched deal is doing to our economy, to our small businesses, to our Union, to our people and to our public services.