Saturday, November 10, 2018

As we Remember the Armistice Could a Failed Trade Brexit Result in Conflict?

Transport Minister Resigns as Metaphorical Storm Clouds Gather Over Europe
Shipping News Feature
UK – With the resignation of Jo Johnson as Minister for Transport the confused situation the government, and indeed the country, face with the up and coming Brexit deal, is brought sharply into focus. Johnson. Unlike brother Boris the ex-Minister voted Remain, but said on Twitter following his resignation speech that ‘we are barrelling towards an incoherent Brexit that is going to leave Britain in a subordinate relationship with Brussels’. Hardly the sort of thing that the country's road haulage and freight communities wanted to hear.

Just a day before, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) was expressing relief that Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU had finally recognised the importance of the Dover strait and frictionless trade for the UK economy. Others were not so kind, expressing shock that Raab has admitted in a speech that he ‘hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing’. The way he delivered the news that, as some put it, ‘he first discovered Britain is an island’ does not look good on video which captured the speech.

We, and so many others have expressed concern that the European Union, somewhat unsurprisingly, are intent on making Brexit as difficult as possible, and certainly any stranglehold on free trade is likely to produce the most volatile of reactions. The overarching principle when the Common Market, the precursor of today’s political alignment, was created, was to ensure security and avoid conflicts such as those we are remembering this weekend.

That initial aim will lay in tatters if the EU tries to blackmail the UK by restricting trade flows when there is actually no conceivable reason to do so. When the UK entered the Common Market essential trade with Europe was comparatively minimal. At first the switch from the complexities of 27 page carnets to accompany the comparatively unusual sight of a TIR trailer heading overseas where it waited for days, sometimes weeks at a border for customs clearance, was a slow process.

Older freight forwarders will remember the process of T1’s 2’s and 3’s dragging on until the penny dropped and the authorities realised what the experts already understood – free trade meant just that. Many of this generation of politicians, such as by his own admission Mr Raab, seemingly have no concept of what logistics means, neither the processes nor the vital importance.

Unfortunately many of the current generation in the industry itself also do not yet grasp what is required, whilst our leading trade associations continue to try and convince those in the upper echelons of British politics that their combined professional experience is required to guide the negotiators to offer any chance of a suitable outcome.

The message to both European and British politicians is clear, negotiate as you must regarding Britain’s exit, but trade should never be a bargaining tool to gain political advantage, that way leads to conflict. And should this pathetic prevarication persist meaning essential supplies such as food, pharmaceuticals etc., disappear from the shelves due to the incompetence of politicians on either side, history has shown us the inevitable result.

We live in an age when social media can reflect and amplify extreme views, with a mainstream press that can be openly bought and has become a matter of national shame to many. There are factions on both sides of the argument whether to stay or go containing some of the very worst elements of our society, prepared to use the rhetoric of societal division.

As pointed out by the FTA this week the British government has made a pledge that there will be frictionless trade post Brexit. Failure to make good on this promise may lead to consequences in the long term one hopes they comprehend.

Photo: Jo Johnson resigns from the cabinet.