THE Brexit process has descended into chaos since the beginning of the year. Leaving Europe was always going to be difficult but the unbelievable intransigence of the UK Government has made it worse than even the most pessimistic of predictions suggested Brexit with a deal could be.

Let’s be clear, the UK Government did not plan properly, it didn’t have the common sense to delay Brexit until after the pandemic, it refused to work hand-in-hand with the devolved governments and didn’t negotiate professionally with the EU.

Had it done any of the above, there would still have been damage to the Scottish economy but not the huge fallout several of our key industries are experiencing now.

Negotiations with Europe were protracted and bad-tempered. It as almost as if Boris Johnson and his Brexiteer Cabinet didn’t want a deal. But then at the 11th hour, the Prime Minister calculated that crashing out of Europe without a deal would lead to a backlash against his Government and so it cobbled together something he could pretend was a real deal. Here are five huge problems which have emerged since the deal took effect on January 1.

1: Border chaos

THERE has been a huge increase in the volume of paperwork and red tape needed at borders. This has had a catastrophic effect on exports, losing British firms millions of pounds. There is no end in sight to the problems. Indeed they have been getting worse.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said that in the first few weeks of January most companies cut their trade with the EU to very low levels. A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) told Speciality Food that as trade volumes increase, there is a greater likelihood that other sectors of the food and drink industry will be impacted by disruption at ports and borders.

The National: Brexit damage to Scotland's economy chart

UK Government assurances that normal service would soon be resumed have come to nothing. A bid to recruit up to 30,000 new customs agents to help cope with the extra work at the border has failed.

And claims by Lord Frost, the Cabinet minister responsible for Britain’s relationship with the EU, that freight volumes were recovering were undermined by reports that up to half of all lorries bringing food into Britain are returning empty to Europe because British companies are cutting exports.

The Road Haulage Association said at the end of January that freight exports were still significantly down on expected levels.

2: Scotland’s fishing industry decimated

THE Scottish fishing industry has been worst hit by the Brexit fiasco. Figures published by the Office of National Statistics revealed the fish and shellfish industries suffered a massive 83% drop in exports during January.

Fish was left rotting in lorries which could not get produce to European markets in time. For an industry that relies on the freshness of its products, the delays had a devastating effect. Losses have been put as high as £1 million a day.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, has warned that without further negotiations between Boris Johnson’s Government and the EU to reduce red tape, sales will never recover to their previous levels. He dismissed UK Government suggestion that the “grim statistics” were mainly due to the pandemic.

Withers told reporters: “We know Covid has reduced demand and there was stockpiling of products before the end of the year, but right at the heart of this trade collapse is Brexit and the creation of huge, new, non-tariff trade barriers with our biggest export market.

“This simply can’t be talked away as a Covid issue. The crash in UK trade has not been seen in sales to non-EU markets, despite it being a global pandemic.”

3: The full effect of the export crash

SCOTLAND exports twice as many goods per head as the rest of the UK and so it has been the hardest hit by Boris Johnson’s pretence of having a workable trade deal. UK Government estimates of the damage to Scottish exports stated EU exports slumped by 63% in January compared with the same month last year. British exports overall fell by 40.7%.

In addition to Scottish fish and shellfish exports falling by a staggering 83%, Scottish meat exports dropped by 59% and dairy by 50%. However, a new report by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation states the true situation is far worse. It found salmon exports were down by 98%, beef exports dropped by 91.5%, pork by 86.9% and cheese by 84.9% in January compared to the previous year.

The National: Deal has been a disaster

There were no similar falls withBritain’s trade with non EU countries, suggesting the catastrophic figures were almost exclusively to do with Brexit, not Covid. It seems the UK Government is trying to use Covid as cover for its own incompetence and unrealistic agenda – is that the sort of government we really want for Scotland?

Suren Thiru, head of economics for the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The significant slump in UK exports of goods to the EU, particularly compared to non-EU trade, provides an ominous indication of the damage being done to post-Brexit trade with the EU by the current border disruption. The practical difficulties faced by businesses on the ground go well beyond just teething problems.’’

4: Northern Ireland

NORTHERN Ireland has posed a particularly thorny problem for the Brexit process. It voted 55.8% to 44.2% to remain but, like Scotland, was pulled out against its wishes. That means it is out of Europe while the Republic of Ireland remains in. Trade would obviously be affected if there were different rules for the two but a hard border between them was politically unacceptable.

All sides agreed protecting the Northern Ireland peace agreement was essential, and it effectively ruled out a hard border. The solution was the Northern Ireland Protocol. That allows Northern Ireland to continue to follow many EU rules governing the trade in goods and allows lorries to continues to drive across the land border without being inspected.

The arrangement got off to a difficult start, despite a three-month grace period design to ensure supplies were not affected. Despite that, those difficulties led to some types of fresh produce disappearing from supermarket shelves. As a result, the UK unilaterally decided to extend the grace period, prompting legal action by the EU.

5: The threat to replace Boris Johnson’s terrible deal with no deal

THE dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol could have serious repercussions. The European Parliament has postponed setting a date for ratifying Johnson’s deal.

That was to have happened on March 25 but that plan has been abandoned. Some senior MEPs are warning that the Christmas Eve deal will not be passed at all if the UK goes ahead with its plans to extend the period of grace, which the EU says breaks international law. Johnson’s deal has certainly been disastrous for Scotland’s food sector in particular. There’s only one outcome that would even worse and that’s if we are left with no deal at all.

Brexit has been pushed through by zealots at Westminster. It is an enormous act of self-harm, inflicted for no good reason. Now we are left looking on helplessly as matters get worse. Let’s be clear. The scale of the problems is down to intransigence of the UK Government. Leaving Europe was always going to be problematic but Boris Johnson’s refusal to compromise, his inflexible attitude to negotiations with the EU and his insistence on acting unilaterally over the Northern Ireland situation has made a challenging situation so much worse.

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If he had listened to the Scottish Government we could have found a way to remain in the single market with all the benefits that would have brought. If he had properly negotiated we could have avoided the bad feeling with our former partners and forged a new relationship built on mutual respect.

The situation as it stands suggests the problems will only get worse. We don’t need to just accept the catastrophe which lies ahead. We can take control of our future. We can negotiate our own relationship with Europe and redefine Scotland’s place in the world. With independence we can escape the storms ahead and forge our own, better future.