Once again, the UK government has kicked the can down the road, delaying health and safety checks on food imports from the European Union for the fifth time in three years. This latest act of procrastination is more than just bureaucratic foot-dragging; it's a glaring sign that Britain is still grappling with the self-inflicted wounds of Brexit.
The Cost of Uncertainty
Brexit was supposed to be about "taking back control," but what we've seen is a government that seems perpetually out of control, unable to make firm decisions. This indecisiveness has real-world consequences. UK businesses are shouldering increased costs, trade and investment are languishing, and the economy is feeling the pinch.
The Inflation Dilemma
Brexit has already been a significant contributor to the UK's soaring inflation, disrupting our most crucial trading relationship and devaluing the pound. According to a study by the London School of Economics, Brexit is responsible for about a third of the UK's food price inflation since 2019, adding a staggering £7 billion to our grocery bills. So, when the government delays these checks, it's not just about avoiding more red tape; it's about not wanting to pour gasoline on an already raging fire of high costs.
A Supply Chain on the Brink
The EU supplies 28% of the food consumed in Britain. Any additional checks or barriers could seriously disrupt this vital supply chain. While the government's delay aims to prevent this, it also perpetuates a climate of uncertainty that helps no one. Businesses have been gearing up for these checks, only to find the goalposts moved yet again. This kind of unpredictability is toxic for both domestic and EU businesses.
Stakeholders in Limbo
While some industry groups have welcomed the delay, arguing that it will prevent further inflation, this is a short-term view. Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Chain Federation, rightly points out that although the delay might be the "right decision" for now, it's "yet another blow" to the government's credibility. The constant deferrals make it increasingly difficult for businesses to prepare for the inevitable changes, and smaller EU suppliers might just decide that exporting to the UK is more trouble than it's worth.
The Need for Clarity
The government's announcement to extend deadlines might offer a temporary reprieve, but what businesses and consumers need is clarity and a well-thought-out, long-term strategy. The revised timetable pushes health certification and physical inspections to 2024, but can we trust these new deadlines, given the government's track record?
Brexit has already cost us dearly, both financially and in terms of our international reputation. These never-ending delays only add to the uncertainty and challenges we face. It's high time the government took decisive action to mitigate the fallout, rather than continually delaying the inevitable. Because, let's face it, Brexit is the gift that keeps on taking, and we can't afford to be stuck in this loop of indecision any longer.
About the Author: Hanna Ziady is an award-winning writer for CNN Business in London where she covers financial markets, economies and companies in Europe.