British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association
Meal dropped on the kitchen floor

Warning: This ‘oven ready’ deal contains traces of fiasco

Those of you who have been following my column will have noticed that I have tried to be more positive about life on the other side of the end of the Transition Period when the UK definitively leaves the EU Single Market and Customs Union. This is getting harder to justify and I think I would be failing in my duty to signal my deep concern that this is looking more and more like a mess.

There are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions and the signals from government departments make it clear that they are preparing for very difficult times ahead.

Contrary to the assurances given that the deal was ‘oven ready’ and ‘the easiest in human history’ (curious this one as I am not sure what other species negotiates trade agreements), it is very clear that if this was ever the case, it certainly is not now. Perhaps more ominously, Mr ‘oven ready’ also said “… we’re going to make a Titanic success of it” (the capital T is my addition) with, “There is no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal” coming from the same confident lips.

What this comes down to is that those on the front line know that this has all the ingredients of being a fiasco and these moves point clearly to a recognition that a massive disruption to trade is inevitable.

 Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we won’t get a deal. What I am saying is that even if our negotiators’ ambitions are met they consign our trade to unprecedented levels of complexity, process and delays.

Two key indicators point to this worrying direction of travel.

The first has been the changes to the timetable that the UK will operate to manage its borders; a clear indication that not only operators but also the system itself is far from being ready to apply full controls on all trade from day one. The argument that this was an easement to help business especially in the wake of the pandemic is being rather economical with the truth at best and is a poor attempt to deflect attention away from the reality of the lack of infrastructure and people to operate the system in a way that does not result in massive delays.

The second is the dusting-off of Operation Brock signalled by a consultation launched by the Department of Transport on 3 August. This was the plan first put in place last year in advance of a potential no-deal departure from the EU. It comprised of three Statutory Instruments (SIs) which allowed the enforcement of rules requiring HCVs heading for Dover and Eurotunnel to proceed only by designated routes, and enabled penalties to be applied to any vehicles breaching those requirements.

The problem is that the SIs included ‘sunset’ clauses meaning that they cease to have effect on 31 December 2020, so what is being proposed is that these Sis are extended to the end of October 2021! The important point to make here is that this isn’t about ‘no-deal’, it is about recognising that whatever the outcome, the concerns about significant disruption and delays is very real and a far cry from the assurances made at the outset.

The new plans from Department for Transport do include using the Smart Freight (SF) service, aimed at simplifying  and automating processes to ensure a commercial vehicle is border ready and this will be linked to a ‘Kent Access Permit’ which might be required in some circumstances to manage the volume of traffic in the approaches to the Ferry / Eurotunnel termini but the reality that long delays are anticipated and a key issue that the consultation is considering is how to prioritise ‘certain perishable commodities that face unique risks’.

What is worrying is that DEFRA has pre-emptively set out that this prioritisation will be based on meeting two or more key criteria. These being:-

  • High perishability
  • Live animals with welfare issues relating to journey time
  • Risk of disproportionate economic impact on a geographical area of the UK

and only two key commodity types have been identified that meet these criteria

  • Fresh and live seafood products, including fish and shellfish
  • Day old chicks defined as all poultry less than 72 hours old.

Fresh meat is not included, nor, for that matter larger live animals such as cattle and sheep on the basis that they can have access to water!

While many, BMPA included, will make the case for fresh meat it appears that the criteria have been set such that it will be difficult to have them included. While the consultation will be over by the time this is published, it is never too late to let MP’s know how damaging this could be. Put simply if delays cut marketable shelf life by possibly days, we will simply lose the business.

What this comes down to is that those on the front line know that this has all the ingredients of being a fiasco and these moves point clearly to a recognition that a massive disruption to trade is inevitable.

Peter Hardwick - Trade Policy Advisor, BMPA

About Peter Hardwick

Peter Hardwick is Trade Policy Adviser at the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) and is one of the UK’s leading experts in both domestic and international trade


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