‘Price of democracy!’ Tory minister’s brilliant answer to Brexit ‘teething’ issues

George Eustice grilled on 'frustrations' over Greta Thunberg

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Mr Eustice, who is Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has had to deal with some of the fallout in employment figures in the UK’s food and rural business sector. He most recently suggested that working mothers could help plug staff shortages at abattoirs left by an exodus of migrant labour. He said the meat processing industry is altering its shift patterns in a bid to attract British staff.

This was after many of the Eastern Europeans it had relied on for more than a decade left the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many small and medium-sized businesses in the UK have also felt a squeeze since the Brexit deal came into effect in January this year, according to a recent Dispatches investigation by Channel 4.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) sets out preferential arrangements between the two powers in areas such as trade in goods and services, digital trade, fisheries, and many other things.

Its whole ethos is to ensure and maintain a level playing field and respect for fundamental rights.

The TCA does not provide as much open access to the EU’s markets as before, but it does go beyond traditional free trade agreements usually arranged between the bloc and other countries.

However, the Dispatches investigation revealed that a number of small UK businesses have since struggled to keep their trade with Europe because of additional administrative costs.

Some of its analysis found that almost half of small UK businesses surveyed had had their trade with the EU slashed in some way.

And, more than ten percent had ceased to trade with the bloc altogether for rising costs and reduced profit margins.

The data, plus testimonies of small businesses were put to Mr Eustice during the investigation.

The Environment Secretary admitted that there would be some short-term problems with the transition out of the single market paired with the coronavirus pandemic, but argued that the temporary issues were worth paying for because the UK now had “democracy and self-government”.

He said: “Generally speaking there’s been teething issues.

“Because we’ve left the customs union, and because we’ve left the single market, that does mean there are some additional administrative processes that the EU requires.

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“And obviously there is a cost to that, and I accept that some businesses would rather not have that cost.

“But it is the price, if you like, of having democracy and self-government.”

Many small and medium-sized businesses are now swamped by paperwork and taxes.

Some products heading to the continent from the UK have extra costs for their buyers on arrival.

Antos, a Scottish dog chew producer, is one of many businesses that is upping sticks and moving to the continent.

Antoon Murphy, Antos’ owner, told DW.com in June: “We’ve had to move the whole export side of our UK business to within the EU.

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“We simply weren’t able to efficiently provide for our European customers from Britain anymore, with all the extra health certificates and documentation that’s required.”

Before leaving the EU, for Antos, shipping goods to countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and France was “often cheaper than servicing remote parts of the UK”.

Now, however, British exporters must navigate myriad documents on rules of origin, customs, and VAT when sending stock to Europe.

If an item contains animal products, like Anton’s dog chews do, the paperwork is increased.

Mr Murphy explained: “There was an option to just walk away and fold that area of the business, but we’d worked for the last six or seven years gaining those customers through going to trade shows and engaging with them online.

“I didn’t want to give them up.”

He instead opened up a warehouse in France to continue frictionless trade.

There have been a few Brexit winners in business, however.

Many manufacturers, like automakers, rely heavily on other regions of the world outside the UK and Europe for parts in their finished products.

Due to one section of the TCA, which states that all products have to prove the origin of all their constituent parts, manufacturers will now have to source from within the UK and EU instead.

This means UK and EU businesses may experience a boom in demand for parts.

On the flipside, this will likely drive up the price for consumers.

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