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The Brexit bad news drumbeat is growing too loud to ignore

A plummeting economy, food left to rot and red tape trouble are heaping more pressure on Boris Johnson

Lorries and heavy goods vehicles make their way into the Port of Dover on December 30, 2021 in Dover, England. Businesses importing products of animal origin, animal by-products and high risk foods not of animal origin (HRFNAO) must notify the UK authorities least four hours in advance of their arrival into Great Britain as from January 1, 2022
Lorries and heavy goods vehicles make their way into the Port of Dover on December 30, 2021 ahead of new Brexit trade rules being implemented. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

“Just heard from a specialist European supplier I’ve been using for years that their carriers no longer want to ship to the UK. Hard to source these items in UK, so no easy substitutes, if any. Thanks Brexit!”

So went a tweet from Welsh company Maessyffin Mushrooms – although it could have been from any one of a whole host of other firms suffering from new post-Brexit border rules heaped on importers and exporters since January.

Reverse the direction of trade, and it could have been from Staffordshire farmer Will Woodhall who expects to lose up to £90,000 after border rules introduced at the start of this year sent European Union firms to look outside Britain for goods, especially for perishable ones. Woodhall has left five hundred tonnes of beetroot to rot in a field, good for little else but compost now he has lost his buyers.

For many EU companies, it’s just too problematic to deal with the UK any more, especially when they can turn to 26 other EU countries instead. This is happening even though Britain has delayed its cumbersome Brexit customs checks on EU goods, and is likely to do so again, according to the laughably named Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, in order to ease the burden from a process he and his government allies said would be a boon for the UK economy.

The utter delusion of their “sunlit uplands” Brexiter economic pledges was laid bare for all to see when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week announced its latest forecast that Britain would grow more slowly and suffer more relentless inflation than any other major advanced economy next year.

As energy prices climb to distressing levels and the cost of living crisis starts to bite, the IMF slashed its 2023 growth forecast for Britain by nearly half to 1.2%, while the new figure for this year was 3.7% compared to 4.7 % forecast in January. The projected growth for next year is the lowest among the world’s advanced major economies – including the US, France, Germany and Japan – and dips below the Office for Budget Responsibility’s already pessimistic 1.8%.

“Consumption is projected to be weaker than expected as inflation erodes real disposable income, while tighter financial conditions are expected to cool investment,” the IMF said about Britain.

Inflation, which has already hit 30-year highs of 7.0% last month, is projected to average 7.4% this year – higher than the Eurozone – and fall much more slowly than any other major economy next year, with an average 5.3%, compared to the US and Eurozone, both projected to fall below 3%. The financial markets expect the Bank of England to raise interest rates to 2.25% by the end of the year.

Whichever way he spins them – and he will – it’s hard to see how Boris Johnson can parlay these figures into positive news, as he transparently attempted to do earlier this year when he cherry-picked an outlier figure to pretend the UK was the fastest growing G7 economy.

The IMF’s new figures, released in its latest World Economic Outlook, were triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and included a nearly one percent cut in its forecast for global economic growth. Inflationary pressures, supply chain issues, food and energy shortages and tighter monetary policies are set to burden economies already suffering from Covid.

But only Britain has sabotaged its economy further by leaving a large and prosperous trading block on its doorstep, which is constantly making everything just that much worse.

You don’t have to look far for evidence – or actually, maybe you do – since the repercussions have gone all the way to the Falkland Islands, where a people Britain went to war 40 years ago to save are now struggling to export squid to the EU because of Brexit.

The EU is the main market for the Islands’ dominant fishing industry – with exports accounting for more than half of their GDP – as well as an important market for meat exporters, but tariffs of up to 18% on fish and 42% on meat have wreaked havoc.

As the Falkland Islands’ UK and Europe representative Richard Hyslop put it: “When it comes to Brexit, as things stand, there are no obvious benefits to the Falkland Islands. There are, however, a number of challenges.”

Closer to home, a recent report confirmed the early anecdotal evidence from the spectacle of British-caught fish rotting as fishermen grappled with red tape and costs. “Government promises on Brexit and its benefits for the fishing industry were far in excess of what would be delivered,” said Dr Bryce Stewart from the University of York, who led a study completed earlier this year.

Instead of taking back control of borders for British fishermen, there was quota sharing with EU boats, bureaucratic delays meant British fish was less fresh and lost customers, exporting costs were high and the expected increase in local catch would be minimal, the report found: “The industry became an icon of Brexit with claims it would correct past injustices and breathe new life into neglected coastal communities, but our study reveals the stark delivery gap between rhetoric and reality.”

But while fishing is a tiny proportion of the economy, larger businesses, too, are suffering. In many cases, the cost and delays of border checks dissuaded companies from exporting at all, while others moved operations to the EU so they could trade without friction. This week the Financial Times reported an influx of British businesses to the Netherlands to avoid the struggles of border controls.

“Here’s one of your Brexit benefits… it’s just… it benefits the Netherlands, not the UK,” the European Movement tweeted. “You can’t keep lying to the British people and pretending like Brexit has been a success, when it has been an unmitigated disaster.”

The negative photo opportunities are everywhere. Alongside the tower of rotting beetroot this week there have also been pictures of endless springtime lorry queues in Kent. Yes, some of this was linked to the cost-cutting, rights-destroying post-Brexit P&O sacking 800 workers and then having to shut its operations, but the general queues in Kent did not appear overnight, nor did the conversion of the Garden of England into an ugly sprawling trailer park more reminiscent of eastern European border crossings in the last century.

Even the pro-Brexit, pro-government Daily Express pointed out that the failure of what was supposed to be temporary Brexit IT systems and the burden of new customs checks added to the latest hold-ups.

In fact, there is such an ubiquity of negative stories that they fill up an unofficial sidebar of Brexit shame on the Express‘ website, including ones detailing expanding passport queues – albeit full of “bitter Remoaners” – as Britons can no longer use the fast EU ones and are subject to cumbersome new post-Brexit passport checks. This, and the inability of the border force to recruit enough staff contributes to the toxic cocktail of reasons for the unedifying airport chaos over Easter, with bulging queues and cancelled flights ruining the holidays of those who braved the reopening of travel for the first time since the pandemic.

The exodus of EU workers post-Brexit has hit many sectors, from haulage to the service industry and farming, which saw crops left putrefying in the fields with nobody to pick them. A “Pick for Britain” campaign for volunteers to save the day was an embarrassing flop. To avoid a repeat, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) optimistically wants to boost this by creating “career opportunities” for menial agricultural jobs nobody here apparently wants to do. Or, if all else fails, automation.

But the lack of foresight over seasonal workers is already leading to harm. The Home Office and Defra have published a report at the end of last year that found seasonal workers on a post-Brexit pilot scheme to harvest fruit and vegetables were subjected to “unacceptable” welfare conditions – including lack of safety equipment, racism and accommodation that had no running water or bathrooms. Now charities have found that hundreds of Ukrainians – who arrived before the war — have been living and working informally in Britain after escaping from farm conditions that they likened to modern slavery.

In the face of mounting evidence, even Brexit’s erstwhile champions are struggling to identify any positives from the enterprise. A recent YouGov poll found that a majority of British voters would now rather be in the EU – including around 10 percent of Leave voters.

As they inflict untold damage across the globe, the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine war have masked the economic hit from Brexit in the UK, but at some point they will be gone, while the ongoing Brexit pain will continue, creating bad news stories and appalling images that even the Daily Mail and Express can no longer ignore.

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