Patronising scare stories about trade gridlock under WTO rules don’t stand up to scrutiny

Patronising scare stories about trade gridlock under WTO rules don’t stand up to scrutiny

Every day there is another tale of why moving to trading with the EU on WTO terms at the end of March 2019 is going to be “chaos” or a “disaster”.

For over two years we have left it to the politicians to enact a clear instruction resulting from the referendum. For over two years the CBI and other big business lobbyists have been pushing their vested interests. As time has gone on, the paranoia about going to WTO rules at the end of March has become ever more hysterical with a concerted push by the Bank of England, Treasury, CBI and others to scare us into believing that Armageddon will ensue should WTO come to pass.

I find it rather sad to see what I would normally assume to be intelligent people taken in by their own hyperbole. It would appear that they have not given any thought to what they are actually saying.

Taking a few basic principles:

  1. Businesses in the UK and throughout the EU work hard to maximise their sales.
  2. The UK Government and the EU have not expressed any desire in any circumstance to reduce the levels of trade between businesses on either side of the Channel.
  3. Trade is conducted between individual businesses, not governments.
  4. The UK and EU authorities have a long track record of fair regulation in trade and respect for the rules of the WTO.
  5. Checks on freight take place on both sides of the Channel now to prevent criminal activity, including VAT fraud and smuggling of alcohol and other products.
  6. Trucks carrying products subject to UK Duty such as fuel, alcoholic products and cigarettes are subject to customs checks now but – as will happen in the future – these take place away from the ports.

And let me move to one of the most common scare stories – that we as businesses will need to stockpile extra parts – and drugs in the case of the health service – because of chaos at the ports.

The only ways that this may be the case are as follows:

  1. Suppliers based in the EU refuse to supply the UK because we have left the EU – but no, they will want all the business then can get.
  2. The French Government impose delays on traffic leaving Calais and other French Channel ports – but this would be silly as traffic would move to Dutch or Belgian ports instead.
  3. Port workers and the Calais port authorities slow down traffic coming through the port with more checks. Don’t be daft, their business is about shifting as many trucks as possible, as quickly as possible, through their port. The last thing they will want to do is slow down that throughput.
  4. On arrival in the UK, Border Force and HMRC are going to delay imports from the EU to collect tariffs and undertake checks that were not done the day before. This would suggest the Department for Health will be stockpiling drugs because customs officers working for another government department may delay imports of drugs for use by the National Health Service. I think most of those working for Border Force and HMRC would find that pretty insulting.
  5. Fog in the Channel. This has always been a problem and is more common than one thinks – but because we expect it, it goes largely unreported and yet somehow we all survive without suffering shortages of food, drugs or components for factories.

The other big scare story is that goods being exported from the UK are going to end up being delayed, requiring Kent to be covered in concrete to store them all while they wait to board ferries. As someone whose livelihood depends on exporting to more than 120 countries around the world, you might have thought that this would worry me.

I am sorry to say to those crying wolf that again their concerns look somewhat ridiculous when dissected:

  1. Am I, a UK exporter 70% of whose business depends upon establishing relationships with customers in all parts of the world, going to turn down an order from an EU customer? Of course not, why would I?
  2. Is our Government or are our ports going to delay UK exports from leaving the country? No, of course not.
  3. Are the Calais port authorities going to strangle trade by instituting extra checks on goods that they would not have done the day before? No, both the Calais port authorities and the French Government have said that they have no interest in carrying out any more than the usual percentage for international freight which normally runs at about 1% of traffic. Again, the Dutch and Belgians have been gearing up their ports to cope with a no-deal scenario and they would love some of the business at present going to Calais.

It’s very curious that our authorities like peddling hysterical scare stories, especially when their track record is not very good. The Millennium Bug was going to plunge us back to the Stone Age if you believed some; BSE was going to mean that you merely had to touch a bit of beef and you would die of CJD; voting to Leave in the referendum would result in the economy going into freefall the next day – I even remember a Business Minister on Any Questions saying that British business would never sell anything in the EU again.

I have to say that I do admire how the people trying to fill our poor simple heads with all this guff can keep straight faces, as it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.