the first concrete consequences of divorce in Great Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands

Trucks heading for the Channel Tunnel, January 4, 2021 (illustration). (DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

The United Kingdom actually left the European Union on January 1, 2021. After several years of discussions, negotiations, procrastination, Brexit is now in place. This has resulted in a number of very concrete changes for several countries.

In Great Britain, fishing in difficulty

On the British side, it is especially the Covid-19 pandemic that has attracted attention in recent days. The figures are alarming, the country has more than 83,000 deaths from the virus, it is estimated that one in 50 Britons is infected. All eyes are therefore logically on the health situation and the deployment of the vaccine.

However, some sectors are already complaining about the negative effect of the new Brexit rules. The DPD delivery company, for example, suspended part of its activities between the United Kingdom and the European Union, because 20% of its parcels were not correctly declared by the shippers. German, Italian and Dutch bicycle manufacturers have also halted sales in the country.

But one of the sectors that is suffering the most from leaving the EU is fishing. It was the hobbyhorse of pro-Brexit, but British fishermen depend heavily on exports of fresh produce to the continent and they are now undermined by what the trade union describes as a “wall of bureaucracy”. In Scotland alone, a third of the trawlers are currently said to be at a standstill.

According to many economists, securing a last-minute deal helped avert a very short-term disaster scenario earlier this month, especially since companies had built up a lot of inventory in preparation for a possible “no deal”. But in the coming weeks, the government announces major disruptions in the English ports, in particular that of Dover. And in the longer term, the Bank of England estimates that the country’s GDP will lose three or four points in the next ten years, because of the repercussions of Brexit.

Empty supermarket shelves in Ireland

In Ireland, the consequences of Brexit are a little more visible: most food imports pass through Great Britain, the “land bridge” between the island and the rest of the continent. As a result, some shelves are simply empty. We are not yet eating cabbages at all meals, but some shelves are empty, in the bakery, prepared meals or even poultry shelves. Supermarkets refuse to talk about tensions, but admit that some deliveries are late.

Not really surprising when you see the heavy truck traffic at the port of Dublin. The authorities talk about volumes “significantly lower” at the same time last year. There are two reasons for this: companies stocked up before Christmas to avoid possible disruptions in the early hours of Brexit. Many do not dare, in fact, to bring their products from Great Britain or Europe, for fear of administrative controls at the borders, and for fear that the trucks will be blocked, delayed, and that the products arrive almost expired.

Authorities at the ports of Dublin and Rosslare, the country’s main sea gateways, promise they are on deck 24/7 to help businesses with their administrative procedures. But faced with the tranquility of traffic, customs had to ease their controls to encourage imports. This reduction does not mean that nothing is controlled any more: the health checks are maintained, but if a company shows good faith, that it proves that it is prepared for Brexit and that it simply has under – estimated the changes, its products will be less delayed when they arrive in Dublin. For those who would be tempted to dodge, the head of operations at the port of Dublin intends to give companies a few days, at most one to two weeks, before lifting the relief.

In the Netherlands, a sandwich story drives the debates

In the Netherlands, also connected by boat to the United Kingdom, the new Brexit restrictions are causing a lot of reaction. For several days, images of Dutch public television have been touring social networks and have even crossed the borders of the Netherlands. In a report broadcast by the news program “EenVandaag”, a ferry from the United Kingdom is seen disembarking in the port of Hoek van Holland, a few kilometers from The Hague and Rotterdam.

On the quay, Dutch customs are firmly waiting for the passengers. The message from this customs officer is clear: “England is now a third country for the Netherlands. So there are certain restrictions on products that you cannot bring back.” A surprising exchange ensues between the customs officer and a passenger. “Is there meat in all of your sandwiches? Yes? So we take them all, sorry”, continues the agent. “Can I at least remove the meat and keep the bread?”, tempts the passenger. “No everything has to be confiscated. Welcome to Brexit sir, sorry”, slice the customs officer.

These famous sandwiches have made a lot of talk. What has been widely relayed by the media in the Netherlands are the sometimes very negative reactions on the British side, where this short extract has been widely relayed. But for now, we remain in the symbolic, since due to the health crisis, trade is very limited between the two countries and traffic in Dutch ports is not at its usual level.

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