Same old same old

 Unhappiness is not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it.

So, as of yesterday’s announcement, we won’t, in all probability, be seeing lettuces piled up at the Port of Dover because they don’t have the correct post-Brexit paperwork. Instead, we are told that – in the increasingly likely event of a no-deal Brexit – lorries will be able to drive straight off ferries or through the tunnel, without without making customs declarations.

Instead, importers and haulage firms would just need to file a simplified form online in advance and pay the duty later.

This is similar to the guidance that was issued in September, prompted by behind-the-scenes lobbying by the BMF, that postponed VAT procedures would be introduced in the event on no-deal, so that importers of materials and product will be able to account for import VAT on their VAT return – instead of paying it when goods arrive at ports. This concession applies to imports from the EU and non-EU countries.

Is it enough? One of the most sensible interviews I have read so far with any politician about this subject was this one in Saturday’s Times with Business Secretary Greg Clark. Disclosure: he’s my MP and his wife is one of my Sunday morning rugby touchline buddies, so I my be more favourably disposed towards him (he’s a jolly good constituency MP) It’s behind the Times paywall, but the gist of it was that the ‘deadline’ of March 29 isn’t actually the real deadline. That the proper deadline for any deal that we should sensibly be working towards is mid-February. ie. next week.

Clark points out that, for any business importing or exporting, the idea of stringing out any agreement right up to the deadline of March 29 is meaningless. He says: If you’re manufacturing on the 1st April, then you have to place the order for components now, so there’s an urgency to this…The reason for that is if you are sending a consignment of goods to Japan or South Korea, it’s going to take six weeks for it to arrive. Both countries have free-trade agreements with the EU, which will fall if we have no deal. So you don’t know whether the goods that you’ve had to embark on the ocean, when they arrive there will be admitted and if so what tariffs are going to be paid.”

The same can be said of anyone who is importing goods that will either be used to make other goods, or sold on to customers further down the line. How can any business forecast or set budgets if it has no idea whether it is going to have to pay VAT upfront, or (in the light of yesterday’s announcement) how soon after the goods have arrived. How can it plan to invest its profits in its future development if it doesn’t know what extra tariffs or taxes it might have to pay on imported goods. Never mind the issue of whether any of its workforce who happen to have been born the other side on the Channel can remain in its workforce. Also, any business that depends upon other businesses having a clear idea of their future plans is likely to feel the pinch as companies hold back on orders, whether those be of bricks or boilers, building works or brass fittings or even, dare I say it, advertising campaigns.

I think we have long since moved beyond the rights and wrongs of the referendum vote and who voted for what; it happened and we are having to make the best of it. Except we aren’t yet. I feel like I have spent the last few months just trying to come up with new ways to say the same thing. The politicians have let us down. Too many of them have put their own agenda ahead of business, our economy and the interests of the electorate.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has apparently been banned from the port of Calais by the port’s chairman who calls him Failing Grayling: I’m not sure if that means the rest of the world laughing at us or pitying us. Not sure I’m happy with either.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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