Another day in Parliament and yet another version of what may or may not happen before and after Brexit from that master of the unanswered/unasked question, our Prime Minister. And as with almost everything May says one comes away more confused than before. What appears clear is that by accident or design (and increasingly it would seem it’s the latter) the UK is going to crash out of the EU without a deal. But even if we don’t, the degree of uncertainty now in play is only set to increase, with potentially devastating consequences.
The reason for this is simple. In the real world – the UK in which organisations and people produce goods and services – we are now passing the point at which decisions have to be made on production and service plans for 2019 and beyond. Anyone who works outside the Westminster and Whitehall bubble – in real organisations of almost any type – knows this. I could explain how that uncertainty will soon impact on decisions made in my university, where, as in all others, the prospectus for the 2018-19 academic year has already been published and we will soon be asked for input into the 2019-20 version with all the questions that remain unanswered about what the relationship between the UK and EU will be and likely outcomes for student recruitment, fees, status, placements, and so on.
But instead let’s consider a far more graphic example of the consequences of the never-never land situation we now find ourselves in. Currently 40% of UK lamb production is exported to the EU. Because we’re in the single market and customs union that happens tariff free. But as ‘Bio-Waste Spreader’ in Private Eye noted recently, after Brexit lamb from the UK will be subject to the same tariff as applies to non-EU countries. A charge that currently sits at £2,689 per tonne. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if this cost is added to what farmers currently sell their lamb for it’s almost certainly priced out of the market (unless we assume that other EU farmers will sit on their hands and not move to fill the gap in the market left by UK lamb – which is presumably what Brexiteers assume). The question is therefore, how are the UK’s sheep farmers to deal with this situation? Is the government going to initiate a mass campaign to force us to eat the surplus lamb? Will the government implement a compensation scheme for sheep farmers? And if so, what about schemes for beef, cereal and other farm products currently exported in significant amounts – tariff free – to the EU, or elsewhere under EU export agreements.
Answers to these questions are crucial because the production cycles for agricultural products such as lamb and beef typically span more than a year. And therefore, as with university prospectuses, plans have to – have to – be made this autumn/winter for 2019. If one thinks that with every week that passes this situation applies to more and more organisations, thus creating an ever-larger environment, and ever more vicious cycle of uncertainty (as the uncertainty in one organisation spills over into their supply and logistics networks, and on into other related networks) we begin to see the reality of Brexit. Its impact will build in severity and reach as the months pass and will stretch well into the future. It will not benefit most of those of working age who voted for it and will not result in any form of ‘freedom’ of any significance to any but the few. Indeed, as crops and fruit rots without EU seasonal worker to pick it we may see sections of the population coerced by government into undertaking this work.
Of course, May, Fox, Davis and co would rather continue talking about the haggling and deal making that may or may not be taking place with the EU, or blaming ‘the enemy’ across the channel for our woes. Much easier that than answer straightforward questions regarding production plans that are now immediate and crucial issues for farmers, manufacturers and services providers alike and for their futures. The time has now passed when these issues could be ignored or wished away. So, stop the crap and let’s start having some answers. Reality demands it.