Trade will be ‘day-to day struggle’ after Brexit is completed, MPs told in grim industry forecast

Inquiry hears of massive extra costs, a mountain of red tape, shrinking investment and chemicals ‘disappearing’ from UK market

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 30 September 2020 11:27
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Post-Brexit trade will be 'day-to-day struggle' industry warns

Trade will be a “day-to day struggle” after Brexit is completed, MPs have been told, in a bleak forecast from the key aerospace, chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries.

The inquiry heard of massive extra costs, a mountain of red tape, shrinking investment and chemicals “disappearing” from the UK market, from January.

Some medicines may not reach Northern Ireland – if, as feared, extra tests will be required – although it was “very important that patients don’t panic”, it was told.

‘Those facilities [for testing] don’t exist, so it’s not clear how it will happen,” warned Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

Neil Hollis, of the chemical giant BASF, highlighted £1bn of new registration costs, a loss of innovation and some chemicals no longer being available, adding: “There's no positive spin on this.”

And Paul Everitt, chief executive of the ADS Group, the aerospace trade organisation, said: “Whatever happens now, we will be involved in a day-to-day struggle to ensure the goods that we need to see flowing across our borders.”

He said: “It will happen at whatever cost it has to bear – but that obviously shapes and impacts on people’s future investment plans. It’s not a happy place for us to be.”

None of the three witnesses could state a reason for welcoming the end of the transition period, on 31 December, when challenged by Hilary Benn, the Brexit committee’s chairman. 

The grim warnings came hours after the struggling UK car industry suffered another Brexit blow, when the EU rejected a UK plan to avoid export tariffs by circumventing rules of origin. 

All the sectors will be hit even if a last-gasp trade deal is struck, because it would not spare domestic producers from the harsh effects of leaving the single market, the customs union and EU agencies.

The pharmaceuticals industry is pushing for the fallback of a ‘mutual recognition agreement’, to avoid the cost and delay – of up to 6 weeks – of re-testing when a medicine is exported to the EU.

Every month 45 million packs of medicines cross the Channel and 37 million are imported from the EU to the UK, it points out.

Mr Torbett stressed such an agreement was “a bare minimum”, pointing out a deal to allow data to cross borders was also “incredibly important”.

On the risk to medicines reaching Northern Ireland, he said “stockpiles are being built up”, adding: “We will do everything we possibly can to manage risk.”

The chemicals industry fears the £1bn cost of the UK pulling out of the EU database, known as REACH, in favour of its own regulation.

“To put it bluntly, chemicals available now.... will remain on the EU market, but will disappear from the UK market,” Mr Hollis said.

Mr Everitt criticised the decision to pull out of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which certifies products, arguing continued membership had been “negotiable”. 

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