Opinion: Customs sector may be only winner in Brexit deal

Covid restrictions are back in our area, which is currently rated high risk. It is apparently now illegal for us to mix with another household indoors – presumably by some sort of imperial decree.

However, meeting outdoors (except in our garden), may just be officially frowned upon rather than against the law – it’s difficult to keep up.

Our offspring have both returned to university, as they were instructed. Subsequently, the health secretary said he had “not ruled out” banning students from coming home for Christmas.

This would be the end of enough. Outline escape plans had already been made when the inevitable U-turn was announced.

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This autumn’s students are already paying top whack for a sub-standard and not much fun learning experience.

They are likely to find limited job opportunities when they emerge and, if they do get a job, they will be paying off their student debts for a very long time.

Some universities have imposed draconian restrictions and have amended student contracts to say that if anyone breaks these rules, they will be chucked out. 

This all seems a spectacularly bad deal for students – indeed, a rip-off. What is particularly nauseating is the idea that this is somehow the students’ fault, or that the restrictions are for their own good – they’re not. 

I still hope that our leaders will not inflict no deal on us at a time when the economy is already on its knees due to the pandemic.

The mishandling of the return of students to university follows on from the exams fiasco as yet another mess that really should have been foreseen and managed better.

And so to Brexit. We are rapidly approaching the point of no return in terms of getting a deal with the European Union before the end of the transition period.

Whether or not some deal emerges, three things seem inevitable.

Firstly, any outcome will be announced as “fantastic” by the prime minister. Secondly, any downsides will be blamed on someone else (the EU, businesses, students, the general public). And thirdly, there will be a huge increase in red tape at the end of the transition period.

This has been badged as “growing the customs sector”, as if that was somehow a good thing. Tremendous. Well done everyone.

It doesn’t just involve the government-estimated 7,000 trucks queuing for the ports in Kent, but also a huge increase in documentation required on all EU-bound exports, particularly food and animal products.

And there is a shortage of vets to deal with the inspection and certification requirements. 

As far as our sheep go, we have almost completed our marketing season, and that will largely be that for us until next autumn.

Our reasonable best-case scenario would be that there is a no-tariff deal, and that an adequate way of working and trading is sorted out before this time next year.

If tariffs are introduced, sheep and lamb prices will be severely affected and I think things will be very difficult. Other industries, including mass employers with a higher political profile, particularly car manufacturers, will also be badly damaged. 

So I still hope that our leaders will not inflict no deal on us at a time when the economy is already on its knees due to the pandemic.

In the meantime, good luck to all those locked-down students. They can still dream of an exciting career in the UK’s new “boom” sector – customs bureaucracy.

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