We can’t af­ford a Brexit catas­tro­phe

Western Mail - - WM2 -

TWICE yes­ter­day peo­ple reached for the word “cat­a­strophic” when de­scrib­ing the po­ten­tial im­pact of Brexit.

The hugely in­flu­en­tial Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee warned it will be “cat­a­strophic” if a new cus­toms sys­tem is not in place by the time the UK leaves the EU. It warns that the num­ber of cus­toms dec­la­ra­tions that will have to be made could in­crease five­fold to 255 mil­lion.

In the af­ter­noon, the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of As­ton Martin, Mark Wil­son, warned it would be “sem­i­catas­trophic” if pro­duc­tion had to be halted be­cause no deal was agreed on post-Brexit ve­hi­cle cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“Cat­a­strophic” is a strong word and it demon­strates the depth of con­cern about how the UK will nav­i­gate the de­par­ture from the EU which is due to take place on March 29, 2019.

Chaos at Welsh ports could have a se­ri­ous im­pact on the com­mu­ni­ties of Holy­head, Fish­guard and Pem­broke Dock, but also on ex­porters whose sales would be jeop­ar­dised by ex­tra costs, more red tape and grind­ing de­lays.

There was ev­ery rea­son to punch the air when As­ton Martin an­nounced that it would de­velop a pro­duc­tion plant for its high-end ve­hi­cles at St Athan in the Vale of Glam­or­gan. No­body in Wales will want to see this pres­tige man­u­fac­turer hav­ing to ap­ply the emer­gency brake be­cause a deal has not been agreed with the EU.

In each case the UK gov­ern­ment has an im­mense re­spon­si­bil­ity to sort things out well in ad­vance of Brexit day. It is im­per­a­tive that the new cus­toms sys­tem works flaw­lessly and that trained staff are in place to avoid bu­reau­cratic de­lays; given Bri­tain’s ropey his­tory with IT sys­tems, it would be fool­ish not to have a sturdy fall­back ar­range­ment ready to go.

Sim­i­larly, the UK gov­ern­ment needs to ad­dress the con­cerns of the mo­tor in­dus­try with ur­gency. The re­vival of car pro­duc­tion in the UK has pro­vided an ex­tra string to an econ­omy which re­mains overly de­pen­dent on the suc­cess of fi­nan­cial ser­vices in London.

The City has made no se­cret of the se­ri­ous chal­lenges it will face if no Brexit deal is agreed, but Bri­tain will have an even more grotesquely un­bal­anced econ­omy if the au­to­mo­tive sec­tor crum­bles post-2019.

Other in­dus­tries will have their own spe­cific con­cerns which are just as cru­cial to the fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity of en­ter­prises across the UK. Some­how, the Depart­ment for Ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union must be on top of all these is­sues and able to ne­go­ti­ate ar­range­ments that will en­sure pros­per­ity is not ship­wrecked.

Some of the finest minds in Bri­tain go to work in White­hall, but this task will re­quire a level of acu­men and diplo­matic panache verg­ing on ge­nius. Un­less there is rad­i­cal progress in the ne­go­ti­a­tions more peo­ple will ask if it would be wise to pause the Ar­ti­cle 50 process which states the UK must leave two years af­ter the process is trig­gered.

There are many rea­sons why cab­i­net min­is­ters may find it hard to sleep at night, but pro­tect­ing jobs should be their paramount pri­or­ity. The Western Mail news­pa­per is pub­lished by Me­dia Wales a sub­sidiary com­pany of Trin­ity Mir­ror PLC, which is a mem­ber of IPSO, the In­de­pen­dent Press Stan­dards Or­gan­i­sa­tion. The en­tire con­tents of The Western Mail are the copy­right of Me­dia Wales Ltd. It is an of­fence to copy any of its con­tents in any way with­out the com­pany’s per­mis­sion. If you re­quire a li­cence to copy parts of it in any way or form, write to the Head of Fi­nance at Six Park Street. The re­cy­cled pa­per con­tent of UK news­pa­pers in 2016 was 62.8%

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