Last week, one of the world’s largest container ships, the Ever Given, was grounded in the Suez
Canal, completely blocking the waterway. At more than 1,300ft long and nearly 200ft wide, with a weight of
216,000 tons, the ship can carry some 20,000 containers. Around 10 per cent of global trade passes
through the canal, but with a ship obstructing passage, other carriers have been forced either to
wait for the route to open again or to navigate the Cape of Good Hope as the only alternative.
The disruption to trade caused by blockage of the Suez Canal might readily stand as a
metaphor for the disruption Brexit is causing UK trade with the EU. While the interruption of
shipping by a massive container vessel was an unpredictable and temporary calamity, in contrast,
the Brexit-threatened decimation of British businesses now being reported by the Federation of
Small Businesses, was entirely predictable. This in spite of our government insisting that Brexit
would deliver innumerable socio-economic dividends. The tragedy is, that while shipping will flow
again in the Suez Canal, much of the harm that our loss of EU membership is causing will be
Napoléon Bonaparte may or may not have stated that Britain is a nation of shopkeepers.
Ours is though, a nation of diverse businesses with some 5.94 million small- and medium-sized
enterprises, representing 99 per cent of the UK’s total of six million businesses of all sizes. The Cheshire
Cheese Company is just one of Britain’s many innovative small companies, but due to Brexit it has lost £250,000
in trade with the EU, just 22 miles away between Dover and Calais. Our Government has, in its
wisdom, told the company to look to the USA and Canada thousands of miles away to replace its
lost EU trade. This cheese company is not alone in dealing with the economic catastrophe that Brexit
is inflicting. Indeed, tens of thousands of British businesses, ranging from small to large, are now
desperately worried about their futures. Many Conservative MPs enthusiastically talk up Brexit,
however, we have yet to see any quantitative analyses of its success, in spite of our Government
launching an expensive tax-payer funded advertising campaign hailing Brexit’s genius. If success is
that obvious why the need to advertise it?
As citizens of Shropshire, we should want Brexit to be a success whether we voted for it or
not, as there’s no turning back. Not at least in the near future. We should also want to know how
the UK’s departure from membership of the world’s largest free-trade zone on our doorstep will
affect our county, both immediately and in the long-term. Shropshire is remarkable for many
reasons. Apart from its extraordinary beauty and fascinating history, it holds around 25,600
registered companies at the last count and the diversity of businesses is notable. For instance,
farming, food and hospitality businesses are scattered across Shropshire’s 1,346 square miles, while
many creative and advanced high-tech companies are centred on towns such as Shrewsbury, Telford
and Oswestry. How all of Shropshire’s businesses are faring with the fallout from Brexit needs
research. But what’s clear is that the non-tariff barriers – bureaucracy and red tape – caused by
Brexit are creating immense problems for many exporters. Take just one example, the export of
meat which is critically important to Shropshire’s farmers and meat processors.
The House of Lords Environment sub-committee recently reported that British food
businesses face outright export bans and structural barriers to trade with the EU, directly as a result
of bureaucracy linked to Brexit. Only last week, the British Meat Processors’ Association stated in
its UK Meat Industry Brexit Impact Report that during the first six weeks of 2021, meat exports
were 50 per cent below the pre-transition period volume, also that most meat companies expect a
permanent 20 per cent loss of export trade with some expecting a 50 per cent loss and that many EU customers
are cancelling orders. The additional cost to the UK’s meat industry of trade with the EU is estimated
at £90-120 million per annum. Is this an example of Brexit’s success as defined by our Government?
It seems that Boris Johnson’s much vaunted oven-ready deal has turned out to be a tasteless, pre-
packed sandwich well past its sell-by date.
Where does this leave Shropshire? We need honesty and transparency in relation to Brexit if
the project is to be prevented from seriously harming our county’s businesses, economy and society.
Surely then, it’s now time for Shropshire’s MPs as the political owners of Brexit and also our
parliamentary employees, to take conspicuous responsibility for their party’s project and work with
the Chamber of Commerce and other organisations to report factually on Brexit’s impacts, both
good and bad? At least then, Shropshire’s businesses will know where they stand and can plan