In an economy devastated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Britain can boast at least one new boom industry — customs.
By some industry estimates, which ministers do not dispute, as many as 50,000 people could find new work as customs agents, facilitating trade between Britain and the EU under new Brexit arrangements. This army of form-fillers could soon start to rival the actual British Army in size.
The party of Margaret Thatcher is now overseeing the unwinding of one of her biggest projects: the creation of a vast EU single market, where goods and services flowed unimpeded across national borders in Europe.
Lorry parks and inspection points are being created to facilitate customs controls between Britain and the EU. More than £350m is being spent to help companies in Britain overcome red tape spawned by Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to enable them to trade with Northern Ireland, another part of the United Kingdom.
This is all happening to prepare for what the prime minister says is his preferred option of a tariff-free trade deal with the EU, when the Brexit transition period expires on December 31.
But even that limited trade agreement is not a certainty. As a crucial eighth round of EU trade talks take place in London this week, Mr Johnson is considering whether to inflict…