We can’t afford a Brexit catastrophe
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%