In less than 100 days, the UK faces the biggest change in trade rules with the EU since the European single market was launched in 1993 — whether a new trade deal is agreed or not. Now the government is warning of a “reasonable worst-case scenario” of two-day delays in getting freight across the Channel and queues of 7,000 lorries in Kent. This is not a rerun of “Project Fear”. Finding ways to mitigate disruption is vital to limiting economic damage in the midst of a pandemic, and to making a long-term success of Brexit.
Since Britain will leave the EU customs union and single market whether it strikes a trade agreement or not, the end of the Brexit transition period will in many ways turn back the clock, overnight, to 1992. Since then, however, commercial Channel crossings have mushroomed from 1m to about 3.5m a year; organisations handling customs arrangements in Kent have shrunk from about 200 to 17.
An estimated 275m new customs declarations will need filling in annually post-Brexit, costing about £15bn. Some big exporters know what is involved. But sending whole containers of goods on a 30-day crossing to, say, China, is very different from much UK-EU trade, involving small shipments arriving just in time without warehousing.
The government estimates that even under…