Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Confusion Reigns Over Brexit Deal as Last Minute Agreement Prompts Call for Delay

Implementation Period Needed say Some as Truck Carrier Thanks Negotiators
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – So, at the last minute a deal, of sorts, was agreed between the European Union and the UK government, but after four years of squabbling, point scoring, Gallic shrugs and scornful stiff upper lips, what does it all actually mean?

If the opinions of a variety of industry analysts are to be believed, in the case of the freight industry, not much. That is to say that the position on New Year’s Day will still mean that customs entries on all goods may cause delays, unless a last minute stay of implementation is initiated.

It may seem ridiculous that, after such long and protracted negotiations, the waters are still as muddy as ever, but the simple fact that the production of a 1200+ page document a week before the deadline, when most people who matter are sheltering in their Covid free homes trying to make the best of the Christmas holidays, is not proving to be the negotiators finest hour, but seemingly nobody blinked soon enough.

If you want every line spelled out then search the web for the detail or read the 1246 pages here, but the condensed version that may affect our readers (and looks at some anomalies) is as follows:

  • Free Trade: There will be no tariffs imposed on goods, and no quotas as to how much is traded. In other words a return to the Common Market principles the UK originally signed up to.
  • There will however be extra paperwork and Customs checks. Those of us old enough to remember the original deal will recall it took some time before the penny dropped and we stopped exactly that mountain of red tape as a waste of time and effort – free trade is after all supposedly free trade, whether it is headed to Birmingham or Paris.
  • Professional qualifications no longer count, if you were a doctor or nurse on a Covid ward this week technically you won’t be as soon as your current status expires (go figure)
  • Pet Passports: These are no longer valid. Instead you will need to consult a vet about injections before carrying your pet abroad. This one also is a bit of a puzzle as Europe has rabies and the UK doesn’t but the EU want UK pets vaccinated against it before export.
  • You’ll need a ‘UK Global Health Insurance Card’ when your current European Health Insurance Card expires.

Many may conclude that this deal simply means jobs for the boys for the foreseeable future. Countless points in the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) need the assent of the partnership council (PC), a political body from both sides. Then there are around a dozen sub committees to tackle discord on trade matters.

These are followed by several other committees including notably two devoted to transport, by road and air. We already mentioned the obstacles to UK flagged maritime interests in a previous article and, presumably, the lack of rail connections make this mode irrelevant, unless of course the dreaded snare of state aid catches out one or other.

This new arrangement will affect every part of the relationship. Want to travel abroad? Business or pleasure? Do you have (or will you need) a visa? If you are on a business trip and you have the wrong documentation then theoretically you could be banned from future entry. This particular conundrum is made even more complex by the differing immigration regimes in each country of the EU (at this point one begins to wonder about a 'unified state' and possibly lose the will to live).

The question to ask of course is who police’s the police. Up to now we have no idea who will sit on the PC or how it will be governed. This will have a direct effect on how the new trade deal pans out, there are bound to be hitches and that realisation is what has spawned the call for an implementation period.

A call for such a delay is gaining ground from such as Alex Altmann, who is a partner and the head of the Brexit advisory group at London accountancy firm Blick Rothenberg, plus Chairman at the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany. He said:

“The Christmas Eve Brexit deal has been welcomed by traders but full implementation by New Year’s Day is impossible. We now need a phased implementation of this deal for 6-9 months. Businesses need to understand and digest the phonebook-style legal text with over 2,000 pages first. It took the government years to come to this result. Why are we given now 7 days to get on with it? This is too early.”

“While the zero-tariff trade deal avoids another cost-shock for traders, the lack of guidance of how to deal with the new customs paperwork is a real problem. New customs rules mean 250 million additional customs declarations will have to be processed by HM Revenue & Customs every year from 2021. We need at least 20,000 more customs agents in the UK to support UK and EU businesses with the new procedures. It will take years until the new process works sufficiently.”

Some of course have welcomed parts of the deal with open arms as it affects their interests directly. One such is Eurotunnel who said the agreement ends long period of uncertainty and will benefit both businesses and travellers alike. The company immediately announced it is launching a ‘Eurotunnel Border Pass’.

This new service will enable customers to upload all the data needed for their journey to a virtual wallet, accessible during their crossing by Eurotunnel and the authorities of the two states, in what it describes as a ‘highly secure format’.

The company says the Eurotunnel Border Pass in particular will enable the transfer of data needed for goods to cross the border from hauliers to Eurotunnel and then from Eurotunnel to the authorities in each country in a secure digital form, without truck drivers having to leave their vehicles or even present a document at the border crossing.

Yann Leriche, Chief Executive Officer of Getlink, said that Eurotunnel and its 2500 employees are committed to providing a reliable high-performance service, with Jacques Gounon, Chairman of Getlink, concluding:

“Getlink, an authentic bi-cultural Group is very well placed to benefit from this agreement. We thank the negotiators on both sides, who often don’t get the recognition they deserve.”