Brexit has beached the fishing boats at Hastings. The two-man crew of Paul Joy’s boat Kaya have left for shore jobs, after the price of the huss they land fell to just 2p a kilo. Exports to the European Union are Brexit-blighted, with fishers across Britain poleaxed by new costs and regulations, their catches rotting before they reach EU markets. It’s costing them millions already.
For the past two years Joy, a passionate Brexiter, has consistently told me he believes his industry would be shafted in any trade deal. “Betrayed, sacrificed,” he says, outraged at the government’s failure to secure British fishing rights for 12 miles around the coast, and now crippled by the export costs. So when foreign secretary Dominic Raab has the effrontery to tell the BBC’s Andrew Marr that this is “a great deal for the fishing industry”, he must know it’s not true.
Other industries want to know if Boris Johnson’s promised “compensation” for fishing losses means a huge subsidy in perpetuity for this less than 0.2% sliver of the economy? Because the problems exploding in one industry after another, in less than three Brexit weeks, are not going away.
Friction is the new normal. As the chief EU negotiator, Michel Barnier said firmly last week, things have “changed for good”. UK choices mean “mechanical, obvious, inevitable consequences when you leave the single market and that’s what the British wished to do”. It’s not French revenge, or bloody-minded Brussels, but ordinary life as a third country.
The plight of the fishers is just a vivid emblem for the great blow that is falling on exporting parts of the economy. Michael Gove’s December warnings of “bumpy moments” upped an octave in the first week of this year, to Britain should prepare for “significant border disruption”.
That well-staged last-minute-deal melodrama was designed to end Brexit stories, relegating all boring details of the aftermath to the business pages. Not so. The stories are so strong even the ardent Brexit-creating press can’t resist them – though now those newspapers add a self-exculpatory slant that blames the government for a bad Brexit. Here are some random discoveries since Brexit day.
Watch: NI haulier 'shocked' at problems of moving goods from GB
The Sun warns of Brexit’s threat to the Cheltenham Festival: last year 180 Irish horses ran, but this year, “Brexit leaves Irish racehorse trainers fearing ‘colossal’ tax bill”. Likewise, the cost of taking UK showjump horses across the Channel is prohibitive for their British owners. Motorsport faces similar fees for cars shipped to EU races.
The fashion industry – especially Asos-type, cheap end with small margins – is hitting a rules-of-origin crisis, paying new duties on its many products manufactured outside the EU. Fun stories in the Sun include the lorry driver crossing the Gibraltar/Spain border whose bottle of Nando’s sauce is confiscated, along with all those ham sandwiches snatched by the Dutch. The Daily Telegraph reports the flight of Europeans from England, but not from “remain-voting Scotland and Northern Ireland”. Farmers Weekly sends up flares about plunging meat prices, due to delayed exports.
All these losses to a host of smaller industries mount up fast. But look at the Sunday Times report on the crisis in a car industry that’s worth £42bn in exports, employing 823,000 people, where car-part delays are halting production at some factories. Yet still, most economically deadly is the unseen slipping away of invisibles, where that 80% of the economy in services is already leaking tax revenues. Bloomberg keeps up its grim recording of no likely progress: “City of London’s plight laid bare as Brexit deal hopes fade,” it reports.
And then there is the unfolding Northern Ireland disaster. Stena Line ferries has diverted its Great Britain-Northern Ireland sea crossings to the Rosslare-to-Cherbourg route instead. The Times headline reads “Doldrums ahead in shipping forecast as Brexit complicates customs”.
Over the past year I have been following the impending haulage disaster through Manfreight, a 200-lorry company in Coleraine. Its owner Chris Slowey says no, the crisis in the GB/UK crossing is not down to “teething problems”, as Raab put it, but is baked into the nature of Brexit. His lorries carrying exports to England return empty, doubling his costs, as English exporters find it too costly to sell to Northern Ireland – and that’s permanent. The Telegraph reports that one in 10 lorries are being turned back at the EU border. Delays will continue: spot checks at EU borders are standard. So will queues, lorry parks and roadside squalor. The pandemic has worsened the Brexit effect, but that was a good reason to extend the transition period.
It’s only human to confess to some remainer “I told you so” glee when ex-MP Kate Hoey wails in the Telegraph, “The Tories have betrayed Northern Ireland with their Brexit deal”. What on earth did she expect? That’s why Northern Ireland wisely voted remain.
Expect a lot more shocked Brexiters to discover what they have done, the Brexit cabinet itself is on a steep learning curve. Here’s one Telegraph columnist: “We Brexiters are being blamed for the problems we warned about. In reality, the fault lies squarely with the government and poor planning.” Oh the schadenfreude! That’s a sharp U-turn from the Telegraph’s too-eager 1 January report from the Dover front: “Chaos? What chaos?”
As Brexiters turn on each other, Brexit politics move fast. Until now the Tories planned to move on, only reviving “Brexit done” triumphalism to re-arouse the captured red wall at the election: Labour just wanted to bury the whole issue.
But the scale of the eruptions bursting out in one sector after another requires the opposition to find its footing on this tricky terrain. Many like Paul Joy on Hastings beach are still as passionately pro-Brexit as ever. Fearlessly, Labour needs to regain its voice of outrage that Brexit leaders deliberately shut their ears to what leaving the single market and the customs union really meant. A better Brexit deal really was possible.
Watch: Scotland's Seafood Industry Is Already Reeling from Brexit
• Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist