The great cheerleaders of Brexit knew that the Irish border would become a Gordian knot of Brexit negotiations, with no solution providing justice or satisfaction to every party involved. During the campaign they managed to duck the issue by suggesting that the trade deal between the EU and the UK would be quickly agreed, with advantageous terms for Britain.
That was, of course, a lie. Mere months away from the end of the transition period and the shape of our future relationship with the EU remains as unclear as ever. Despite the cutting of red tape being among the major rallying cries of Prime Minister Johnson and friends, the Tory Government’s latest plan to manage the coming chaos is a new border between Kent and the rest of England.
Michael Gove has suggested that lorry drivers will need a special permit to enter Kent and that police may deployed to enforce this new border. This comes in response to the UK Government’s own estimates that only 20 to 40 percent of small and medium-sized business are ready for Brexit and that, as of the New Year, between 30 and 60 percent of trucks could be turned back by the French authorities.
The response to burdening small business with unwelcome and onerous new restrictions, is to require them with further paperwork and more confusion.
While the thousands of Lorries parked nose to tail on Kent’s motorways are physically distant to Shetland the knock on effects could send shockwaves through the islands’ economy. The fishing industry is worth £300m to the local economy, with the quality of the produce being celebrated throughout Europe. Sustainably caught Shetland lobster and crab are especially desirable, as are mussels farmed off the islands.
These are all products that are of no use whatsoever unless they arrive fresh to the customer and nothing from the UK Government inspires any confidence that will continue to be possible after the start of the next year. While Shetland’s reputation for quality produce is hard won and well deserved it could disappear in an instant. If produce begins to arrive late or has degraded in quality, then customers will very quickly turn their attention elsewhere and the Shetland economy will suffer a heavy blow.
Since the EU referendum was announced I’ve been clear in my support for the EU and the demonstrable benefits it has brought to Shetland and the rest of Scotland. That was a position shared by the vast majority of people in Scotland, but from the moment the result was announced our democratically expressed wishes have been consistently ignored. While I can’t claim to speak for the people of Kent, who voted by a significant margin to leave the EU, I find it hard to believe that they voted for a border with the rest of England or the kind of mismanagement and chaos we have seen since 2016.
It is clear that the issues facing communities like Shetland simply don’t enter into the thinking of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. This is simply one more example of Tory contempt.
**Originally published in the Shetland Times on 2nd October 2020