The most amazing thing about the 50,000 customs officers story is the way that the government subsequently handled it. The Road Haulage Association put out a press release this week detailing that around fifty-thousand more customs officers will be needed to deal with the load of new paperwork post-Brexit. This is because they estimate that the number of tariff related forms will jump by 200 million a year from the current 50 million. All right, another business interest group putting out dire Brexit warnings, nothing new there.
What then happened should have been shocking but wasn’t because we live in ridiculous political times. When questioned about it in the House of Commons, Michael Gove all but admitted the figure was bang on by telling the House that it would be feasible to hire that many people over the course of the remainder of 2020. A spokesperson later admitted that the 50,000 figure was “not far off”.
Brexit was supposed to be about reducing red tape – not creating five times more of it in measurable terms. I know this is just getting added to the list of things the Tories figure don’t matter, like Boris not showing up in the north when the floods happened or not dying in a ditch when October 31st came and went. Except that all this stuff is piling up and at some point something they don’t think will matter will start to matter. Particularly given on April 4th there will be someone in the basically now vacant leader of the opposition post again. The Starmer team have figured out that all of the Tories blanking the BBC means that Labour can have all of their people on the airwaves all the time, hogging those slots. Something has got to give, surely?
I think Boris and those around him may be confusing the fact that most people want to “get Brexit done” as evidenced by the general election result with the idea that they will then accept anything that happens as a result. That they will buy the “blame the EU” line, when they are much more likely to get upset at their own government. That’s why a lot of them voted to Leave, remember – blaming the EU isn’t going to wash any longer, HMG owns it all.
The cost of the 50,000 customs officers and higher tariffs will be passed along to consumers. These increases could be steep. This may well rebound badly on the government, amongst all of the other things that could go wrong for them Brexit-wise. The other problem Boris will have is that the Tories are fast becoming a high spend, protectionist party. Surely the ideological tension created will start to make itself felt inside of the Conservative party. Javid’s speech may be a sign of things to come on that front.
The ultimate point of this article is that this week the Tories all but announced that the upshot of Brexit will be existentially more red tape and far less free trade – and yet no one really blinked. This is evidence of how crazy things have got. Yet this can’t go on forever. Political gravity eventually reasserts itself. It might happen sooner than the Tories think.