Politicians, bosses and the press are panicking about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. It’s driven by fears that leaving the European Union (EU) will hit firms’ profits.
If there is no deal reached by 11pm on 29 March, when Britain is due to formally leave the EU, existing agreements will cease to apply. These govern customs, trade, travel and citizens’ rights.
Because the debate over Brexit is dominated by what’s good for bosses, the major panic is over trade.
What would change if there’s no deal?
Currently firms in Britain can move goods freely between EU member states. They don’t have to make any customs import or export declarations, or pay import duty.
Leaving the EU with no deal would change this. Bosses fear that their profits will be hit.
Alex Veitch from the Freight Transport Association said, “The EU has erected around itself a border for the number of trucks that are allowed to enter the EU every year from non-EU countries.
“There is a huge risk that if there isn’t a deal on this permits system there may not be enough individual truck passports for British companies to use to take goods across the border.”
EU rules impose health and safety inspections on food and animal products. These must take place at designated border inspection posts. There are none of these currently at Calais.
Firms may have to pay customs duty on imports from the EU. Customs declarations would be needed when goods enter or leave Britain. Safety and security declarations would need to be made.
Bosses fear that the extra checks will hold up imports of goods into Britain, particularly at the port of Dover.
What are the facts about Dover?
Around £120 billion worth of goods come through Dover each year—or 17 percent of the total coming into Britain. Dover handles up to 10,000 trucks a day.
Much of the cargo coming into Dover comes via roll-on roll-off ferries, known as Ro-Ro. Dover handled 2.9 million units of Ro-Ro freight last year, most of which was lorries with drivers.
University College London research from 2017 detailed the possible impact of extra checks after Brexit.
It said that extra customs checks of up to 40 seconds per vehicle would have no impact on queuing time for outward journeys through Dover.
But delays of 70 seconds per truck would lead to a six-day tailback. Delays of 80 seconds per truck would lead to “no recovery” where the “whole country is in a traffic jam”.
Is this just ‘project fear’?
There are lots of dire warnings about what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. For instance, one report claimed that flights between Britain and the EU could be grounded because airlines would need permission from EU countries to fly to them. Others predict food and medicine shortages, or price hikes.
But just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it is going to happen. For example, shouldn’t airlines be able to sort out their permission agreements before 29 March?
It’s in the Theresa May’s and the bosses’ interests to paint no-deal as a disaster because they want to push through her deal.
At the same time, it’s true that the EU protects the ruling classes of its member states—in competition with those outside it. It wants to punish states that leave to deter others from doing the same.
So it will try and ensure that bosses are better off in it rather than out.
The EU is a bosses’ club designed to protect business and aid the smooth flow of profit. Extra regulation governs trade between EU and non-EU countries.
But laws and rules aren’t natural, permanent things. They can be changed—or defied.
Will a no-deal Brexit harm ordinary people?
It’s understandable that people are worried about a no-deal Brexit—they are being encouraged to worry.
Those Tories who back no-deal think it can be a way of letting the right do what it has always wanted, to fully deregulate the economy and slash health and safety and workers’ rights.
The talk of the possibility of food shortages in the fifth richest country in the world exposes the failings of the system.
It can’t guarantee that people’s most basic needs are met—in or out of the EU.
A no-deal Brexit will mean extra costs for firms. The question is who pays.
Logistics expert Andrew Potter said, “Extra costs have to be paid somewhere. They either get passed on to consumers or they hit the profit margins of the companies involved.”
There must be a fight to stop our rulers using Brexit as an excuse to drive through attacks on ordinary people. Unions can demand that workers don’t lose pay or jobs as a result of changes to trade agreements.
And we can protest if bosses try to raise prices to protect their profits. Ruling classes always try to make us pay when they are in trouble. They use bullying and blackmail to try and protect their position.
In Greece, the EU and its institutions imposed waves of harsh cuts despite voters electing in a radical government opposed to austerity.
If Jeremy Corbyn was elected prime minister, those at the top would do all they could to undermine him. In times of greater turmoil, such as a revolutionary situation, ruling classes don’t flinch at sending in armies to crush revolts.
We shouldn’t give into ruling class blackmail—we should take them on.
Today, the ruling class in Britain wants a return to relative stability because stability is good for profits.
But capitalist stability isn’t good for ordinary people. It means ordinary people getting less while the rich get richer. Stability means a better environment for our rulers to get away with their attacks on us.
It’s good that the Tories and the bosses are in crisis. And it’s not our job as socialists to try and solve it. We need to fight to deepen their crisis, drive out the Tories and end their rotten system.