This is Boris Johnson’s last chance. There is always, as there was with coronavirus lockdowns, that moment when all the warning signs are there, and fast government action is needed.
Now that UK milk and meat exports have been virtually wiped out, alongside the dying fishing sector, with Brexit that moment is now. Boris Johnson could re-open the Brexit trade deal, ensure frictionless trade and save thousands of jobs. But only if he cares enough about the voters he won over five years ago.
So let’s give Boris Johnson and all Brexiteers the maximum benefit of the doubt. Let’s say Boris Johnson isn’t a sociopath and that, in 2016, he meant it when he said the idea of Brexit creating trade barriers was “utterly absurd”. Let’s say that last Christmas, when he repeated that promise after signing the EU trade deal, he truly believed everything would be fine for the people whose jobs rely on EU trade. Let’s say Brexiteers just needed to see with their own eyes what things would actually be like once we left the single market.
Well… take a look. The UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has reported that the UK’s sale of milk and cream to the EU has dropped by 96 per cent; chicken and beef by 80 per cent. Food and drinks exports are 40.9 per cent down since last February and exporters have lost a total of £1bn since January.
This is largely due to the additional paperwork needed now that the Dover-Calais crossing has become the external border of the EU market. The rules around food and drink are therefore no longer the same on either side of the border. Unless Boris Johnson fixes this, British farmers will pay with their jobs. In 2016, he told them: “The extra incentive for our farmers to go for Leave is getting rid of that burden.” Only a monster would promise thousands of farmers that Brexit would free them of costly paperwork, deliver a Brexit that drowns them in paperwork, and then do nothing about it.
People voted for Brexit and for Boris Johnson because they honestly believed that both were about delivering for ordinary people. They saw a system that favours the rich and powerful, and they wanted to take something back for the average man and woman of the UK. Tragically, the FDF reports that “small businesses have been hardest hit”. The increased cost of doing business has been swallowed easily by the larger corporations while the little ones are choking.
Our economy is still on life support because of government assistance, including the furlough scheme, and yet jobs have already started to trickle out through that Brexit hole. And yet with furlough scheduled to end later this year, along with the grace periods on further trade barriers, Boris Johnson is refusing to plug that hole before it gets much bigger. Why?
Fixing this would require re-opening the Brexit trade deal, as trade associations and a parliament trade committee are begging him to. Boris Johnson knows that if he did that, it would be a clear sign that, two years after the election, Brexit still isn’t “done”, as his manifesto promised. But anyone whose fishing company is struggling knows Brexit isn’t done. Anyone filling out mountains of costly paperwork to sell their livestock knows Brexit isn’t done. Anyone who lives in Northern Ireland knows Brexit isn’t done. Hell, anyone who has read the deal knows Brexit isn’t done. The only question now is whether Boris Johnson would rather protect an exposed lie, or actually help people.
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