Watchdog says Brexit has brought cost, red tape for UK firms

A public spending watchdog says Britain's departure from the European Union has brought higher costs, more red tape and border delays for businesses and not yet delivered promised benefits

ByJill Lawless Associated Press
February 09, 2022, 8:04 AM

LONDON -- Britain’s departure from the European Union has brought higher costs, more red tape and border delays for businesses, and not yet delivered promised benefits, a public spending watchdog said Wednesday.

A day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed a “Brexit opportunities” minister, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said that the “only detectable impact” of Brexit so far has been to increase burdens on businesses.

Britain left the European Union’s vast single market for goods and services on Dec. 31, 2020. Most trade remains tariff-free, but Brexit has brought a host of new customs checks and other barriers to previously frictionless trade.

Supporters of Brexit argue that leaving the bloc, which Britain joined in 1973, will allow the U.K. to slash red tape, increase productivity and streamline the economy.

“Yet the only detectable impact so far is increased costs, paperwork and border delays,” said Meg Hillier, the Labour Party lawmaker who heads the committee, which has members from both government and opposition parties.

Before Brexit, about half of Britain’s trade was with EU nations. The committee’s report said the coronavirus pandemic had severely hit international trade, making it hard to discern the exact effect of Brexit. But it said “it is clear that EU exit has had an impact.”

It said border delays are likely to increase as international travel and transport returns to pre-pandemic levels, the EU imposes new checks on people entering the bloc later this year and Britain brings in full import controls, including checks on plant and animal products.

Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association told the BBC that long lines and delays near the main English Channel port of Dover were “the new normal” for truckers.

He called for a veterinary agreement between Britain and the EU to eliminate the need for plant and animal checks, and “a lighter touch on these border controls” to ease delays.

The U.K. government said it was giving businesses “the support they need to trade effectively with Europe and seize new opportunities as we strike trade deals with the world’s fastest growing markets.”

On Tuesday, Johnson appointed Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg to the new post of minister for “Brexit opportunities and government efficiency.” It was part of changes intended strengthen Johnson’s grip on power after weeks of destabilizing scandal over lockdown-breaching government parties during the pandemic.

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