In the years to come when the CGE International Trade Policy Group looks back on what we achieved in our first six months, coping with a national lockdown and trying to understand the issues that are paramount going forward, I think members will be satisfied with the work completed.
The group set itself the task of developing three reports; the first was to look from a top level perspective at where the gaps in knowledge around future trading with our European neighbours lay; the second was a detailed look at ways of resetting our country’s relationship with Brussels after some very tense negotiations; and the third was taking a look at specific issues at port-side around the roll on/roll off trade that currently freely flows between the UK and EU.
Some in our group have gone cross eyed looking at the issues around the question of Ro/Ro and we have collectively written a paper addressing some questions - you can find the full work here. But for those who need the toplines - in a nutshell, if not a bombshell - these are some of the main takeaways
1. UK goods currently move into the EU Single Market, more or less, completely free flowing. On 1 January, that will no longer be the case and the issues are multiple and devilishly tricky to get right.
2. On its own, spending large amounts of money - be it £200 million or even £700 million - will not simply make things work. Government cannot solve complex issues by just throwing money at the problem.
3. The Government has still not addressed many of the issues that need resolving around British trade with Northern Ireland. The Internal Market Bill is deeply concerning on its own but there seems to be a comparative lack of transparency over GB/NI trade when compared to GB/EU27 trade.
4. The necessary IT systems needed to facilitate movement of goods across the border are simply not there yet and the view seems to be that they won’t be properly functioning until next summer. The Government has applied a six month scaling up approach to check on some goods coming into the country ahead of 1 July 2021.
5. Quite simply, it won’t be the fault of businesses if they are not in a ready position to trade on 1 January. There is less than one hundred days to get ready and the business community is in the dark as to the terms of the future trading relationship, there is a lack of sight of IT systems such as Smart Freight and there are simply not the necessary customs agents to facilitate the new paperwork and procedures. It is clear that businesses have done much to try and prepare, however, there are questions that the Government is still to answer.
6. The Government urgently needs to give our nation of shopkeepers sight of the deal it wants and put in place measures that will ensure that businesses are not penalised for lack of transparency coming from Westminster and Whitehall.
We set out to write a report that focussed on the process, in order to stay away from the politics of the situation. In an effort to shed light on areas away from Kent, we have looked at Westerly facing ports. What we have found is that these ports, and therefore communities, such as Holyhead or Cairnryan, are likely to economically suffer from the lack of transparency and preparedness.
As Conservatives, we want a dynamic, successful economy as a result of Brexit. This can happen only if goods and services continue to freely flow and the rule of law is upheld. In order to stand up for these communities, and for the whole United Kingdom, the Government urgently needs to provide clarity and honesty around issues that will allow businesses to plan as far as is possible between now and 31 December.
To download the full report, please click here.
Daniel Paterson is a member of the CGE Executive Committee. He is a political consultant working on areas covering UK and EU Government Affairs, dividing his time between London and Brussels. Daniel has a background in public policy and campaigns, including time spent working in the Parliament’s of both the UK and the EU, on cross-party campaigns and for a Berlin-based Think Tank. In his spare time he likes to cook while listening to the cricket.