Despite the House of Commons voting to show their disapproval of Britain exiting the European Union without a deal, the likelihood of a no deal Brexit increases every day as we edge closer to the 29th of March. For some this is the ideal result, a clean break from Europe that will allow the UK to go it alone and carve a new future without the binds of the EU. Adversely, experts warn of serious consequences, particularly when it comes to trade and the UK border.
The economic costs alone are terrifying. Trade with the EU amounts to 44% of all UK exports and 53% of all UK imports. Adding tariffs to this trade would hurt the UK economy as imported goods would become more expensive while British goods would be less competitive in EU markets. British exporters to the EU would be hit by tariffs of around £6bn. The overall cost would be £900 million worse off in 2019 alone over 15 years the UK economy is expected to be 9.3% smaller.
Numerous leaders from the European Union have made clear that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement that was rejected by the House of Commons earlier this month. Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Junker, Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar have all stood firm on the EU’s position, making no deal a real possibility and resulting in a hard border between the UK and EU.
Much of the industry that would come under the most pressure in a no deal scenario have voiced major concern at this. Doug Bannister, CEO of the Dover Harbour Board, says that a hard border between the UK and the EU would cause unparalleled disruption.
Currently, trucks from the EU pass through the port of Dover without being stopped and checked, allowing for a mostly free-flowing movement of traffic. Forcing a border between the UK and the EU will require every truck to be stopped, a process the port can’t currently support due to lack of manpower and space to filter trucks. The lorry car parks that have also been mentioned are also impossible, there is no land to build these car parks and the ‘just in time’ supply chain that UK supermarkets rely on for fresh goods would be disrupted by deliveries being delayed and produce turning rotten.
Bannister has said planning for the situation has been incredibly difficult, as he has had no guidance from the UK Government on what types of checks will be required if a hard border is the ultimate outcome.
Some have suggested goods be redirected to other ports around the UK to alleviate the pressure on Dover, the same concern around the lack of space still arises. The second busiest port in the UK, Holyhead, conducted tests by directing lorries to an abandoned airfield near the port to control traffic, the test was a failure and determined to be an unrealistic solution to the increased pressure a hard border would bring.
Another suggested solution is digitally checking goods. The Netherlands are leading the way in this possibility, working on ‘Green Lanes’ that would allow fresh produce from the Netherlands to pass into the UK easily by having the goods checked digitally before the truck even sets off for Dover. Tomatoes and cucumbers are a huge part of trade between the two countries, so much so that it has been said the fields of the Netherlands have become a backyard for Britain to receive fruits and vegetables such as these. A hard border threatens the future of this trade.
Dover have also been assessing this digital solution, however along with exporters in the Netherlands, Doug Bannister confirmed there is simply not enough time to test and implement this technology before the date the UK are set the EU on the 29th of March.
As snow falls around Britain this week we are reminded of how the UK just managed to make it through the ‘Beast From the East’ this time last year. Short supply, poor quality product and major disruption at our ports due to a hard border mean the UK would not be able to weather the storm that is a no deal Brexit.