Blog: Brexit Tensions In Ireland As Supermarket Shelves Sit Empty – Forbes

When it comes to Brexit on the island of Ireland, the optics matter. And in the last couple of weeks, they haven’t been great. 

Supermarket shelves sitting empty in the North; log-jammed lorry parks in the South. 

A piece of Brexit paperwork — the Northern Ireland protocol — is to blame. Designed to avoid the return of commercial checkpoints across the island, the protocol sees Northern Ireland remain aligned with the EU single market, allowing goods to pass freely to-and-from the Irish Republic. 

The catch: an effective customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea. This has slowed — and in some cases, curtailed — the flow of deliveries to Belfast, Ballymena, and beyond. At Dublin Port, through which a significant chunk of the North’s trade passes, freight is moving at a glacial pace.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – JANUARY 14: Supermarket shoppers walk past rows of empty shelves in … [+] Tescos on January 14, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Supermarkets here are already seeing disruption to food supplies after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, when Northern Ireland remained part of the E.U. single market while GB left. The change will require food products entering NI from Great Britain to receive additional certification and checks at ports. Despite a three-month “grace period,” in which supermarkets needn’t comply with all EU certification requirements, shoppers are already seeing disruption as supermarkets grapple with the changes. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

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A catalogue of new documentary checks lurk behind the slowdown. With Brexit, UK businesses selling to the EU (and vice versa) must make import and security declarations, confirming the origin of their products. The frictionless trade that has underpinned UK-Ireland commerce for a quarter-century is well and truly gone.

When it comes to the movement of food, this is particularly true. Items of plant and animal origin are subject to an added layer of regulatory checks, with veterinary inspectors required to certify a consignment’s contents. This can be a cumbersome process — hence the sorry sight of empty supermarket shelves.  

It is but “teething problems,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson; a slightly rough ride in the first official fortnight of Brexit. 

The UK’s top supermarket chains don’t exactly agree. An “urgent intervention” is needed to prevent further disruption to Northern Ireland’s food supply, the heads of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Iceland, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer told the government this week. 

There are particular concerns around what happens in April when more strenuous tests on food and agricultural products come into force. At that juncture, it may prove uneconomic for stores to operate in Northern Ireland, raising the spectre of price hikes, or even closures.

Shipping containers are pictured as a freight lorry or heavy goods vehicle (HGV) leaves from Dublin … [+] Port in Dublin, Ireland on January 12, 2021. – Northern Ireland’s supply chain is “within days of falling apart” as new post-Brexit checks stem the flow of freight into the UK province, hauliers warned on Monday. Supermarkets are “experiencing considerable difficulties” stocking shelves since the Brexit transition period ended, said Road Haulage Association (RHA) policy manager for Northern Ireland John Martin. (Photo by PAUL FAITH / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

That seems unlikely, though — the Brexit process has been pockmarked with challenges, but a solution is almost always found. Indeed, though unsettling, the reports of empty shelves weren’t ubiquitous, and it seems shoppers weren’t put at too great an inconvenience.

But the episode belies a deeper issue.

Ireland, commercially speaking, is no longer split North-South but East-West, with a line drawn between the island and Great Britain. That’s hugely symbolic.   

While Brexit has undoubtedly inflamed age-old political divides in Ireland, there’s little question that the island is now more economically united than at any other time in the last century.

Small wonder the co-ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — who, this year, will celebrate one hundred years of Northern Ireland’s continued place within the UK — was incandescent at the supermarket debacle. 

“[The protocol] has ruined trade in Northern Ireland and it’s an insult to our intelligence to say it’s a teething problem,” fumed DUP lawmaker Ian Paisley Jr in parliament on Wednesday.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND – JANUARY 14: Supermarket shoppers in Tescos stare at a near empty freezer … [+] cabinet on January 14, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Supermarkets here are already seeing disruption to food supplies after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, when Northern Ireland remained part of the E.U. single market while GB left. The change will require food products entering NI from Great Britain to receive additional certification and checks at ports. Despite a three-month “grace period,” in which supermarkets needn’t comply with all EU certification requirements, shoppers are already seeing disruption as supermarkets grapple with the changes. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Getty Images

His party is pushing for the activation of Article 16 — a safeguard that allows the UK (or EU) to act unilaterally if measures imposed as a result of the protocol are deemed to be causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. The government has said it won’t hesitate to do so if required, but argues that there hasn’t yet been the need. 

Northern Ireland’s Nationalist movement would tend to agree. Triggering Article 16 would be reckless, senior Sinn Féin figures have said, while Stephen Farry, deputy leader of the Alliance Party, this week dismissed DUP fears that schools and hospitals might face food shortages as “scaremongering on steroids”. 

Whether that’s right or wrong — and even if commercial hurdles are cleared in the coming months — Brexit’s constitutional ramifications for Ireland are gathering pace.

Blog: Brexit: Ed Davey says Lib Dems won’t campaign to rejoin EU – The Scotsman

NewsPolitics

Brexit: Ed Davey says Lib Dems won’t campaign to rejoin EU

The Liberal Democrats are not the party of rejoining the European Union, Sir Ed Davey has said.

Sunday, 17th January 2021, 12:53 pm

Ed Davey has said the Liberal Democrats are not the "rejoin the EU" party.
Ed Davey has said the Liberal Democrats are not the “rejoin the EU” party.

The Lib Dem leader said his party was “very pro-European” and wanted a close relationship with the EU following Brexit, it was “not a rejoin party”.

However, he said that the removal of free movement as a result of the UK leaving the EU is “illiberal” and the case for its reintroduction should be reopened.

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His comments came after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer confirmed he would not campaign to restore free movement as it would require extensive renegotiation of the Brexit treaty.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Sir Ed, who was elected as leader last August, said: “We are not a rejoin party, but we are a very pro-European party.

“We believe it is in the interest of the British people, for jobs, small businesses, exporting, Scottish fishermen, for our security and for our police services that we have the closest possible relationship with our European partners, and we’ll be arguing throughout the next few months and years that Britain needs to have a far more pro-European position.”

Pressed on whether the issue of free movement should be reopened with the EU, Sir Ed added: “Yes, I think we should do. Free movement is a huge freedom for British people. British people work across the European Union, they travel, they live, they bring up families across the European Union.

“It is a huge freedom for our young people. I think one of the sadnesses of taking away free movement is it’s very illiberal – it is taking away that freedom from all our British people.”

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Blog: IDS urges Boris to use Brexit powers to ban China trade – ‘We can lead the world on this!’ – Daily Express

Iain Duncan Smith has said that Britain should use its new found control over its own courts after Brexit to ban a trade deal with China. Speaking to Sky News, the Conservative MP said that it was “time the UK led the world” on the issue. Mr Smith is backing an amendment which would allow domestic courts to declare if genocide is occurring in another country.

The amendment would also prevent the UK trading with any country the High Court rules is committing genocidal acts.

While the Government has opposed the amendment, about 30 Tory rebels are expected to back the change to the Trade Bill.

The Trade Bill returns to the House of Commons next week, prompting the former Tory leader to spearhead a “genocide amendment” to the legislation.

Mr Smith said: “We now need to ask our own court. I was keen on Brexit and part of the reason was we wanted UK courts to make decisions like this.”

JUST IN: Emmanuel Macron blasted for ‘unjustified’ meeting with China on deal

The MP added: “I want the UK court to give a preliminary decision that on balance do we think countries, such as China with the Uighurs, or Burma with the Rohingya, have committed genocide.

“It is an outrage and it is time the UK led the world on this.”

Mr Smith compared the treatment of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China to the “ghastly pictures from the 1940s of Jews being shipped off to concentration camps”.

He added: “The British Government should embrace this. Do we want to do a trade deal with a country guilty of genocide? I think not.

“There is no way the UK should reward any country that is ghastly in terms of what it does to its own people with a trade advantage.

“Since the Second World War we have protested about the concept of genocide but literally nothing has ever been done.

“This will send a signal of hope to the Uighurs that the world cares about what is happening to them.”

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He pointed out that the US Senate was looking to follow the UK in drawing up a similar measure. 

Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, who is also backing the amendment, said: “We’ve got to be on the right side of history here.

“This is Britain’s first chance outside the EU to show what our values really mean.

“Why on Earth would we want to use our new found freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide? Britain is better than that.”

Also appearing on Ridge, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said reports of human-rights abuses against the Uighur minority group in China were “truly shocking”.

Talking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, he was asked what the UK Government was doing amid accusations that China was holding a million Uighur people in “re-education camps” and women were being forcibly sterilised.

Mr Raab said the UK had recently announced measures to make sure “we don’t have any British businesses that are either supplying to or profiting from the internment camps”.

He added: “I think it’s a shocking, truly shocking, set of circumstances in Xinjiang, against the Uighur Muslims.”

Mr Raab said 38 other countries had followed the UK’s lead in “criticising and condemning human-rights abuses” in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Blog: Brexit: Raab claims EU trade agreement is ‘great deal’ for fishermen, as firms complain of costs and delays – The Independent

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has denied betraying the UK’s fishermen, insisting that the Brexit trade agreement signed by Boris Johnson was “a great deal” for the industry.

Mr Raab was speaking amid howls of outrage from fishing companies, who say that the additional red tape and delay caused by the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement has led to them losing huge sums from consignments unable to reach European export markets.

And the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has described the deal as “desperately poor”, leaving many businesses fearing for their survival amid reports of an 80 per cent collapse in the prices they can charge for their catch.

But confronted with fishermen’s angry comments during an interview on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Raab said: “I think this is a great deal for the fishing industry, both short term and long term.

“We get control over our fisheries back – full control as an independent coastal state – there is an immediate 15% uplift in our access to fisheries for the UK sector in the first year. That rises to two-thirds in the five year transition period, then we have annual negotiations.”

Marr read out comments from Jamie McMillan, manning director of Loch Fyne Langoustines, who said: “We have no sales to the EU, our biggest market for live shellfish, in the last two weeks. If we go another week without that, we are finished.”

And he confronted Marr with the comment of  Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, who said: “Some businesses, which may have been run by families for generations, are now days away from collapse as a result of the agreement”.

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Mr Raab dismissed the difficulties faced by fishing businesses as “teething problems” and said he was “not convinced” that the thickets of Brexit paperwork and delays were the result of the agreement.

“The agreement we have struck, both short term and medium term and long term, will create huge sustainable opportunities,” he claimed.

“Of course, we’ve always said as we leave the transition period with a deal – but even more if we hadn’t had a deal – there will be some teething problems.

“We’re very focused on working with all of the different sectors, including the fishing industry, to resolve any of these teething problems.”

Mr Raab said that the government was investing £100m into the fishing industry to enable it to grasp the additional opportunities which it believes will be available as a result of Brexit.

Despite warnings from industry figures of boats being tied up at quayside and companies being on the brink of closure, Mr Raab said: “The fishing industry is going to want to increase its capacity to take advantage of those increased stocks.

“That’s why we’re putting in £100 million to shore up, to strengthen, the fishing industry right across the whole of the UK, to make sure that this really important opportunity of leaving the EU and leaving the transition period can be properly grasped.”

In a letter to Mr Johnson last week, SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald accused the prime minister of misleading the public about the agreement and giving the industry “the worst of both worlds”.

“You and your government have spun a line about a 25 per cent uplift in quote for the UK, but you know this is not true, and your deal does not deliver that,” Ms Macdonald wrote.

The prime minister’s stated approach, known as “zonal attachment”, would have secured British boats up to 90 per cent of the catch in UK waters for important stocks such as herring. Instead the deal actually means the UK share of the herring catch is just 32.2 per cent and for other fish is even lower, while EU boats have “unfettered” access to British waters, she said.

“This can hardly be claimed as a resounding success,” Ms Macdonald wrote.

“This industry now finds itself in the worst of both worlds. Your deal leaves us with shares that not only fall very far short of zonal attachment, but in many cases fail to ‘bridge the gap’ compared to historic catches, and with no ability to leverage more fish from the EU, as they have full access to our waters.”

Blog: COVID-19 and Brexit put spanner in works of UK car supply chains – Yahoo Finance UK

COVID-19 and Brexit put spanner in works of UK car supply chains

Lucy Harley-McKeown

·3-min read
A member of staff at the Vauxhall car factory cleaning and disinfecting a work station during preparedness tests and redesign ahead of re-opening following the COVID-19 outbreak. Located in Ellesmere Port, Wirral, the factory opened in 1962 and currently employs around 1100 workers. It ceased production on 17 March 2020 and will only resume work upon the advice of the UK Government, which will involve stringent physical distancing measures being in place across the site. (Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images)
A member of staff at the Vauxhall car factory cleaning and disinfecting a work station during preparedness tests and redesign ahead of re-opening following the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

Brexit and COVID-19 have thrown another spanner in the works for the UK car industry as several factories have been forced to limit or shutter production.

Parts shortages and ports delays have already caused issues for the automotive industry, now Jaguar, Land Rover, Nissan (NSANY) and Vauxhall are all curbing activity supply chain issues are ironed out.

According to The Sunday Times, Jaguar is halting production of its XE and XF saloons for two weeks amid staff shortages due to COVID-19. Its Castle Bromwich factory is in Birmingham.

Extra shifts were scrapped at Nissan’s Sunderland factory because of shortages of parts at ports caused by Brexit.

The Nissan factory employs 5,750 people in the city and bosses have previously warned a no-deal Brexit would make its UK business “unsustainable.” Despite a deal being reached, the company is still facing issues.

Last week, Vauxhall was also understood to have lost half a day’s production due to shortages of parts.

READ MORE: UK car industry warns of ‘New Year nightmare’ amid no-deal Brexit fears

In December, car bosses warned the government that car production in the UK could be shut down early in 2021. The latest issues have shown this prophecy playing out.

At the time, Steve Bush, Unite’s national officer for the automotive sector, told Sky News “now is the time to worry,” regardless of whether a deal is agreed or not.

He said: “Within days [of 1 January] we may potentially see an issue where production is shut and ceases because there’s a backup at Dover.”

Alongside Jaguar, Nissan and Vauxhall, Honda also warned last week that it would shit its Swindon factory from Monday to Thursday on account of a shortage of semiconductors.

READ MORE: £34bn Brexit VAT bill pushes companies to the brink

Figures released at the end of December showed that in the 11 months to November, total UK car production was now down 31% compared with the same period in 2019, representing a loss of 380,809 models at a cost of roughly £10.5bn ($14.3bn) to the sector.

The British automotive sector forms a key component of the national economy, turning over an annual £78.9bn and representing the country’s biggest exporter of goods at 13% of total exports.

Factories have been allowed to continue to function during the most recent national lockdown, however these new production curbs will hit hopes of a recovery.

Car production in the UK has already been a casualty of Brexit, with some manufacturers choosing to move their production elsewhere. In December, Ineos Automotive, owned by billionaire Brexit backer Jim Ratcliffe, announced it will build its first 4×4 vehicle in France, which confirmed that its plans to build a car manufacturing factory in Wales have officially been abandoned.

Watch: 10 ways to Brexit-proof your finances

Blog: Stuck in Kent: How Brexit Red Tape Choked Cross-Border Trade – Yahoo Finance

Joe Mayes and Lizzy Burden

·5 min read

1 / 2

Stuck in Kent: How Brexit Red Tape Choked Cross-Border Trade

(Bloomberg) — Branimir Vuckovic shuttles goods back and forth between Britain and the European Union, his Beep Beep Express Ltd. making deliveries to clients in Germany, Serbia and his native Croatia.

But now he is stuck. The 45-year-old can’t find a broker to prepare the customs documents he needs after Brexit. Vuckovic spent this week driving around Kent seeking help — to no avail. He was repeatedly turned away by shipping agents who weren’t taking on new clients.

“Who is going to do the paperwork?” Vuckovic said in a telephone interview. “No one.”

Vuckovic’s experience highlights a flaw in the U.K.’s preparations for Brexit: a lack of trained workers to help firms navigate their way through the labyrinth of customs procedures that have been imposed since Britain’s departure from the EU. Even with a trade deal in place, businesses still face new checks and paperwork.

The staff shortage is already hampering the flow of goods and has pushed up the cost of shipping them, Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, Britain’s biggest manufacturing lobby group, told a panel of lawmakers Wednesday.

200 Million Forms

While the government avoided significant disruption at ports in the days after Brexit — largely because firms stockpiled goods or delayed deliveries until February — the shortage of customs agents means that trade could take longer to rebound to its former levels, hampering any wider recovery in the U.K. economy.

Britain’s logistics industry had warned that businesses would need to hire an additional 50,000 workers to process the 200 million extra customs forms that will be required annually after Brexit.

Read more: U.K. Businesses Drowning in Red Tape Under Brexit Border Rules

The U.K. government has repeatedly declined to disclose how many agents there currently are, saying it’s a matter for the market. Phipson said the latest data shows there are between 11,000 and 12,000. That has left firms struggling to get help.

Eddie Maybank, an independent customs broker, has been so overwhelmed by inquiries that he has been forwarding them on to other agents in Dover. But he was told this week to stop because they were also at capacity.

‘I’m Inundated’

“I’m having a breakdown really,” Maybank said. “I’m inundated, and so is everyone else.”

Even if firms can hire an agent, the experts are finding themselves bamboozled by the new procedures. They complain of difficulties in obtaining export health certificates — documents required for food or animals — and of forms being rejected because they hadn’t used the correct color of ink.

Lukasz Piotrowski of PMA Trade Ltd. has a lorry carrying plastic containers for mushrooms to Poland stuck in Dover, costing his business about 1,000 pounds ($1,364) a day.

“Having a professional customs agency on both sides of the border hasn’t really helped because neither the export agency in the U.K. nor the import agency in the EU know specifically what to do,” he said. “There are times I’m so frustrated I want to close the company.”

The government has conceded the shortage of staff is a problem — but says it isn’t limited to the U.K.

Give Up?

“We are starting to realize that customs agents’ capacity and capability is being extremely stretched — and this is on both sides of the border,” Heather Jones, a deputy director of the government’s Border and Protocol Delivery Group, told an online question-and-answer session for businesses on Thursday.

Even the biggest logistics firms are struggling to grapple with the new paperwork.

Kuehne + Nagel International AG, one of the world’s largest freight-forwarding firms, is turning away new business, and staff are working 90-hour weeks to keep goods flowing, according to a person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity. About 20% of the freight it is handling is encountering Brexit-related problems, with some shipments facing days-long delays, the person said.

“Despite the special situation, we accommodate our customers‘ requests to and from the U.K.,” Kuehne + Nagel said in an e-mailed statement. The company “has specially developed an IT solution that digitizes the customs process (import and export) and ensures that all documents are checked before the physical transport of goods takes place,” it said.

DB Schenker, a major logistics company owned by German rail giant Deutsche Bahn AG, has suspended deliveries to the U.K. due to “significant” problems with Brexit paperwork. Only about 10% of goods it was being commissioned to ship had the right customs forms, DB Schenker said in a statement.

Coronavirus Pandemic

Efforts to train more customs professionals were stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, and some firms have been outsourcing the work to cheaper labor overseas. The U.K. government created an 84-million-pound fund to finance training of new agents — but that had almost been exhausted by the end of 2020.

The shortage of workers to handle customs paperwork has meant that trucks haven’t been getting as far as the ports. Drivers are facing long waiting times at warehouses and factories due to inadequate or non-existent Brexit paperwork.

Magiboards, which manufactures whiteboards, had a consignment from the Netherlands delayed because its goods were shipped with other deliveries, some of which didn’t have the correct Brexit clearances.

“They had to turn the lorry around, go back to the depot, unload the goods from suppliers who hadn’t fulfilled the requirements and go back,” said Erwin van der Stap, managing director of the Telford-based company. “We’re losing orders and letting customers down.”

(Updates with company comment in eighteenth paragraph.)

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