Increased cost to use your credit card, more red tape for businesses, Brits abroad unable to access their pensions – these are the kind of predictions leading Brexiteers would normally dismiss as Project Fear.
Yet on Thursday it was one of that group, Dominic Raab, issuing those warnings through the first batch of the government’s ‘technical notices’ in case of no deal with the EU.
As the Brexit Secretary delivered a speech explaining the documents, he wiped away sweat from his top lip – perhaps realising his Brexit allies on the Tory backbenches would not be happy with Project Technical Notices.
The 25 documents (a total of 84 will be released in the next few weeks) covered a range of areas – from banking to humanitarian aid, weapons of torture to sperm donations – but all fit a set pattern: The UK doesn’t want no deal, it doesn’t expect to get no deal, but if we do, here’s what will happen.
The section on customs and trade did not contain much that wasn’t already known. If there is no deal, there will have to be customs checks either side of the channel and trade would continue on World Trade Organisation terms.
This will mean more red tape for businesses who export, and the government helpfully suggests that businesses “should consider whether it is appropriate for them to acquire software and/or engage a customs broker, freight forwarder or logistics provider to support them with these new requirements”.
Adding extra bureaucracy to businesses was once considered sacrilegious to Tories, but in this Brexit world many old truths are now new realities.
Take Raab boasting about the increase in the civil service to deal with all eventualities. Some 7,000 staff are working on Brexit, he said, with the capacity for another 9,000. A penny for the thoughts of David Cameron and George Osborne, who spent much of their time in government trying to cut the size of Whitehall.
Of course, it might cost you more than a penny if you’re paying by card and the former PM and Chancellor want the money in an EU bank. The notices revealed card transactions are likely to increase after Brexit, as EU-based firms will no longer be constrained by the surcharging ban. Together with the fall in value of the pound against the euro, your next Airbnb trip to Barcelona or Rome just got more expensive.
If you’re one of the 250,000 UK pensioners living in the EU, getting to your money will be worrying you just as much as the value of it. The notices revealed Brits abroad may no longer be able to access “existing lending and deposit services, insurance contracts (such as a life insurance contracts and annuities)” as UK banks may no longer have the right to operate in that way in the EU.
On Northern Ireland, whoever produced the notices clearly made good use of the cut-and-paste function. Almost every section had a small explanation at the end highlighting “the very significant challenges that the lack of a UK-EU legal agreement would pose in this unique and highly sensitive context.”
But on substance, there was hardly any new information. In fact, businesses were advised to “consider whether you will need advice from the Irish Government about preparations you need to make.”
The lack of detail on the Irish border is perhaps to be expected – it is, after all, one of the main stumbling blocks in the negotiations with the EU. If the government knew how to operate an independent trade policy without border checks, then there would be no need for ‘no deal’ planning at all.
The technical notices threw up some unexpected changes. The photos on cigarette packets designed to stop people from sparking up need to be changed as the EU has the copyright on the images. But whereas there is to be a “grace period” so the labelling on organic foods can be changed, there won’t be one for tobacco packets. It has to change day one after ‘no deal’ Brexit. A whole new black market could open up for cigarettes which have a diseased European lung instead of a cancerous British one.
Alternatively, as March 29, 2019 approaches, there could be a Great British Smoke Off to get through the soon to be contraband packets of fags before Brexit day. At least Nigel Farage would be happy.