New regulatory frictions causing disruption to trade with the EU are an “obvious and inevitable” consequence of Brexit and can be expected to be permanent, Brussels’ former chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said.
While some “glitches, problems and breakdowns” caused by the introduction of new paperwork could be expected to be cleared up in the coming weeks and months, other things have “changed for good” as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, said Mr Barnier.
And he indicated that the UK will not be able to rewrite structural changes that have led to checks on agricultural exports and the confiscation of lorry drivers’ packed lunches, telling the Financial Times: “This agreement will not be renegotiated, it now needs to be implemented.”
His comments came as the government came under fire in the House of Commons over the damaging impact of Boris Johnson’s trade deal on the UK fishing industry, with Tory MPs including the party’s leader in Scotland speaking out about the “serious concerns and frustrations” of fishermen.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said one skipper in his Moray constituency had found the value of his catch had fallen to “half of what he needs to cover his costs” as a result of the deal and demanded compensation.
Tory MP for St Austell and Newquay, Steve Double, said fishermen in Cornwall were “very disappointed” by the agreement and feared they would “benefit little” from it.
Other MPs complained of an “avalanche of paperwork” and “cumbersome red tape” faced by fisheries firms.
Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael described the situation as “a shambles”.
“For years, this government has promised our fishing industry a sea of opportunity, but today our boats are tied up in harbour, their propellers fouled by red tape manufactured in Whitehall,” said Mr Carmichael.
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But environment secretary George Eustice dismissed the difficulties faced by fishermen as “teething problems” and blamed some blockages on European bureaucrats.
“Many of these are quite trivial, about where the stamp is,” he told the Commons. “We’ve even had questions raised about the colour of the ink that is used on the forms, the pagination, the way pages are numbered and so forth.”
Mr Eustice told MPs: “We are looking very closely with industry on this matter. We are having twice-a-week meetings with all the key stakeholders, all of the key sectors to help them understand these issues.
“Yesterday we had a meeting with the Dutch officials, earlier this week we had a meeting with the French, on Friday we had a meeting with the Irish to try to iron out some of these teething problems.
“They are only teething problems, once people get used to using the paperwork goods will flow normally.”
But Mr Barnier said that some things have “changed for good” as a result of the UK’s policy choices in negotiating the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
“There are mechanical, obvious, inevitable, consequences when you leave the single market and that’s what the British wished to do,” said the negotiator, who is now thought to be planning a relaunched career in French politics.
Mr Barnier warned Brussels will be “vigilant on all fronts” in policing UK implementation of the deal.
He raised concern over Britain’s decision to grant temporary authorisation for the use of a pesticide banned in the EU because it is suspected of being harmful to bees.
And he noted that Mr Johnson’s deal gives the EU the right to impose tariffs and quotas on UK exports in retaliation for excessive divergence from Brussels rules and regulations.
While divergence between EU and UK rules was a natural consequence of Brexit, “one ought to be careful . . . otherwise there will be consequences in terms of going on exporting without tariff without quota to our market”, said Mr Barnier.
“Pesticides concern public health, the health of farmers, farm workers and consumers. Depending on where you set the threshold in that area it can also have an impact on competition and competitiveness.”
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