After Brexit, Britain had a difficult start to Europe. British companies struggled with mountains of red tape, rotted fish for lack of export markets and billions of pounds fled the city of London's financial sector. But thanks to the European Union's ham-fisted handling of vaccine distribution, Brexit Britain has at least in some ways turned out to be like the better-governed outfit.
The EU's vaccination program has gotten out of hand, and a shortage of vaccines is in stark contrast to Britain's stockpiles and its rapid adoption. W.When the EU tried to remedy its shortage last week by trying to block exports of the Belgium-made AstraZeneca vaccine – but ordered and paid for by the UK government – even EU-pro-Britons were outraged. Brussels aggravated the damage, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen briefly invoked Brexit's most controversial clause to prevent shipments from Northern Ireland to mainland Britain, causing anger among both Irish and British lawmakers.
"In any other circumstance, we would be fighting a flood of bad Brexit news," said a senior official at 10 Downing Street, "as it is, this vaccine story makes the EU look incompetent, selfish and evil … while she shows up. " One really brilliant thing that we have done is vaccinate far, far more people than anyone in Europe. "
Oxford University scientists developed the AstraZeneca vaccine and the UK government ordered over 100 million doses in May 2020. The EU, on the other hand, insisted that all 27 members buy the cans together – but didn't start registering for the vaccines until August. AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish drug maker, said it will serve customers based on availability – and that the EU will have to wait for the UK order to be fulfilled. As a result, the UK has vaccinated more than 11 percent of its population, compared to around 2 percent in Germany and less than in France.
Even those usually fierce for the EU observer The newspaper argued: “The vaccine crisis has shown that the EU is the worst. In contrast, it has shown Britain at its best. "
The EU "basically could not have acted more disgusting," said the British government official, who spoke to foreign policy on condition of anonymity. "It has helped us convince many people, even many who thought Brexit was a bad idea, that (UK) is much better out of this terrible organization."
And they need persuasion. The EU vaccine debacle has so far diverted attention from a steady drumbeat of bad news about the economic repercussions British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on Britain leaving the European single market – a decision the impact of which is likely to only affect UK importers and exporters will become more acute in the coming months.
The result is that UK companies looking to do business in Europe now have to fill out around 215 million import and export forms each year, which is costing an estimated £ 7.5 billion (over $ 10 million) according to the UK Tax Office. Trade barriers have been removed not only between the UK and the EU, but also between the mainland and Northern Ireland.
This friction is evident in British ports that previously served as the gateway to the vast European market. The leaders of the UK's five largest business groups warned the government last week that companies in all sectors have faced "significant trouble" in UK ports since Brexit, with the prospect of "significant business losses" if the situation persists. Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, who had previously dismissed border problems as “teething troubles”, now admits that exporters, as the corporate groups have described, are faced with “considerable obstacles”. He promised companies that lost money as a result of bureaucratic delays £ 23 million in compensation.
"That figure doesn't match the projected losses (from Brexit) at all," said Anand Menon, UK director in a Changing Europe think tank. "There are estimates of a 7 percent loss in (UK) GDP which is enormous. The magnitude of the losses is so great that potential economic benefits cannot offset it."
Unsurprisingly, Irish exporters to the EU have chosen to avoid transit through the UK entirely. Shipping giant Stena Line announced in early January that its largest new ferry from Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland will go direct to Cherbourg in France rather than Holyhead in Wales. Thanks to Brexit, Rosslare Port saw truck traffic increase by 500 percent year-on-year in early January.
The companies that have been hardest hit include companies that were once enthusiastically committed to Brexit.
British fishermen, part of an industry that accounts for less than 0.1 percent of the UK economy, whose demands to free themselves from European fisheries management played an oversized role in Brexit, are now grappling with the real impact of their departure . Most of the fish caught by British fishermen is mainly exported to the European market. Most of the fish British eat is imported. But those decades-old fishing regulations are now in disarray.
In late January, fishermen drove fish-filled trucks to Downing Street to protest costly and time-consuming customs delays that have made exporting fresh seafood to Europe uneconomical. The trucks, adorned with slogans such as "Brexit carnage", stopped to meet their threat of dumping tons of wasted fish on Johnson's doorstep. Gary Hodgson, director of crab and lobster exporter Venture Seafoods, told Reuters, "We firmly believe the system could potentially collapse." Scottish trawlers have begun landing their catches in Denmark instead of the hassle of exporting them through UK ports.
British farmers were also a vocal pro-Brexit group due to restrictive EU quotas and subsidies – until the reality of trying to export their goods to the EU emerged. The British Meat Processors Association reported in late January that in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, over 120 trucks of British meat – one for more than three weeks – were stuck while the food was rotting in them.
The customs crisis has already seriously affected cross-border traffic. Data from the Préfecture des Hauts-de-France et du Nord, the French local authority that controls the main cross-canal ports and the Channel Tunnel, shows that heavy-duty vehicle traffic has decreased by 30 percent in both directions since January 1st new regulations have come into force. 1. The difficulty of getting commercial goods back to Europe has dampened the enthusiasm of European truck drivers: around two thirds of the 3,400 trucks that drove from France to Great Britain were empty.
And that situation will only get worse at the end of this month when a grace period instructing French officials to be lenient with false papers expires. So far, French Customs have found that only 1 in 10 UK truck export health certificates required to deliver all groceries have been correctly completed.
Things could get worse for the service industry, which accounts for around 80 percent of the UK economy but was not included in last year's trade deal. Cboe Europe, one of London's largest stock exchanges that specializes in euro-denominated financial transactions, has lost around € 6 billion (more than $ 7 billion) to markets like Paris and Frankfurt, according to the US government Financial Times. And the carnage could continue: new passport rights regulations that allow non-EU financial institutions to trade within Europe have yet to be clarified. Obstacles to free financial trade could cost the city billions more in escaping capital, and could cause jobs and tax revenues to disappear.
Government officials in the UK have tried to offer help. Advisors to the UK Government's Department of International Trade have told UK small businesses that the best way to get around the regulatory nightmare of customs controls and VAT consideration is to register subsidiaries in the EU single market – a strange way of getting back on the road British sovereignty.
However, these customs difficulties underline that the new trading environment is not a “teething problem”, but rather a structural change. “The cost of trade with the EU will increase. It's a fixed cost that won't go away over time, ”said Oscar Guinea, a former civil servant who is now a senior economist at the European Center for International Political Economy. "UNITED KINGDOM. Exporters are better at doing paperwork –But their costs will always be higher than within the EU. "
At the same time, many of the benefits of Brexit promised by Johnson – including easy touch regulation and the freedom to export outside the EU – remain intangible. Previously, the UK had preferred trade agreements with around 70 other countries through membership of the EU. Now it has to renegotiate them one by one.
One possible benefit of Britain's newfound political freedom could be "new politics" in Britain, said Menon, which is rebalancing government spending to reflect the don't-have issues that have been the strongest supporters of Brexit. "The economy will be smaller, but it could be more equal."
As for short-term successes, even the prime minister's office is having a hard time finding any. "To tell the truth, it has been quite difficult to find specific things to point out," the senior government official said of the immediate benefit of Brexit. "So thank God for the vaccination thing."