This evening dinner talks between the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this evening have broken up without a breakthrough, with both sides deciding that if no deal can be agreed by Sunday, then that would be the final deadline.
The UK PM flew to Brussels today to see if there was a way to make a breakthrough in talks, with the three same sticking points blocking the path to a deal. Both sides ended the evening agreeing at the very least that large gaps remained.
Right now, the chances of a deal are very slim. Fishing rights, level playing fields and the resolution of disputes remain the points of contention. No side appears ready to back down on any.
Judging by the lack of progress for months now on the above three points, it seems almost pointless to give four more days to discussions that neither side can back down on. Both the UK or EU cannot give ground on these points as it will be seen by domestic crowds as giving in and would produce major political problems. For the UK, full rights to our own waters, providing favourable foreign investment opportunities and not allowing external bodies to influence our decision-making ability are areas that the PM will feel he cannot back down on. These are seen as basic, fundamental principles of leaving the EU.
Sunday is now the hard deadline given by both sides. We’ll know at the weekend what is going to happen. That will be four more days of negotiations that right now seem highly unlikely to make any progress.
We’re so close to the end of the transition period, even if there was a deal to be signed and ratified before the end of the year, there remains very little time to actually implement it. Its means that either way, come the New Year we’re likely to experience a hefty period of upheaval as we get used to whatever the new trading conditions are with the continent.
Over the past few weeks we have been seeing reports from around the country that ports are coming under extreme pressure as the nation stockpiles to protect themselves against any outcome. A number of ports are now coming under strain, with problems reported at ports in Kent, Felixstowe and others. Ports are so busy that ships are having to turn around to make stops in Europe before coming back to the UK, which causes even more delays in getting products to the right places.
For UK fenestration this matters. We still import a lot of our hardware either from Europe or elsewhere around the world, and if we cannot get our product off the ships, into the ports and on to lorries, we’re going to start finding prices going up and product shortages becoming a real possibility.
It’s not just delayed products that will cause prices to rise. The cost of shipping around the world has skyrocketed recently. To give you some idea, before the current crisis, a company could pay $2000 for a 40ft container to come to the UK. That price is now between $8000-$10,000 per container. That’s an enormous rise and one that companies cannot take on the chin. Therefore, before long we can continue to expect prices to go up.
This will affect our industry going into 2021. These costs are going to be passed down the supply chain but will take a couple of months to be felt. To be clear, this isn’t just a Brexit problem, this is a global problem and can be blamed on Christmas and the pandemic as demand for goods of all kinds goes through the roof.
What this does for me is to reinforce the argument that the UK needs to become way more self-sufficient. Had we produced more of what we consume and sell here, we would have a much more secure supply chain as it would be domestically rooted and we’d have to worry less about ships coming from around the world. Perhaps as a result of Brexit we will learn to reinforce our supply chains and boost our own domestic supply chains.
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