Brexit: it’s all about the fish

In a year of such bad news the headline that a Brexit deal has been signed counts as good news but it is only relatively, and minimally, so.

For the country at large it means duty and quota free access for manufactured goods and that’s surely good news for those who’ve exported a substantial part of their production to the EU and there are many of them. In particular I’m pleased that Welsh sheep farmers now have a chance of survival. However they and the other exporters will now have to contend with export documentation, which was unnecessary as long as we were still a part of the UK, and that’s not inconsiderable.

For me personally it means that Juni and I can continue to take regular holidays, Covid permitting, to Italy and elsewhere in the EU without the need for a visa.

And that’s about it because the list of what we’re now giving up is long.

Johnson will now play max bluster and talk about great victories, great futures and great opportunities for controlling our borders and our destiny but the reality is somewhat different. Even when it comes to fish.

In his first press conference after announcing the deal Laura Kunsberg of the BBC asked him to honestly say what had been won and lost. He immediately, and only, talked about fish. We have taken control of our own waters he said, and that’s a victory.

Others were less positive about the deal. Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said there would be “frustration and anger” across the industry about the outcome of the negotiations. Fact is that Johnson had to compromise to get a deal, any deal, and that in the end an industry with totemic but little economic significance was his final concession.

I suspect that the fish deal is sufficiently loose that it will make little long term difference.

The queues at Dover caused by concerns about the new Covid strain just showed what happens when there’s a glitch in a system geared to the smooth flow of goods. If Johnson and his acolytes needed a strong message this gave it to him. The worry is that without this final kick maybe Johnson would have continued along the line of ‘an Australian deal is a good deal’ and we’d all have suffered because of it.

I remain of the opinion that Brexit, despite this deal, is the single most damaging act of self harm that this country, and maybe any country, has, and indeed might have, done. There is little doubt that EU membership has enriched our country, it’s contributed to our university and research sector, it’s helped keep the NHS and the care sectors afloat, it’s enabled our supermarkets to offer an incredible range of fresh produce and it’s made it very, very easy for exporters to do business with customers elsewhere in the EU. At the same time it has never limited our ability to trade internationally so we’ve given up so much for pretty much zero gain.

I work with a company which manufactures technical products. It sells them world-wide today so it gains nothing. It also sells them into EU countries with competition from similar countries in the EU. The latter now have an edge. Easy paper free business. So in return for gaining nothing world-wide this company now finds itself at a competitive disadvantage within the EU. Thanks for nothing Mr Johnson.

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