But the first two weeks after the UK finally left the EU single market and the orbit of Brussels rules haven’t exactly gone to plan.
Instead of unleashing potential, an avalanche of bureaucracy, red tape, controls, checks and unforeseen consequences has left many businesses struggling to adapt.
We’ve seen truckers having their lunch confiscated by the Dutch, much loved products withdrawn from shelves, and a fishing industry that Brexit was meant to set free threatening to dump rotten fish at the gates of politicians.
Here’s everything that’s gone wrong with Brexit so far.
Lunch off the menu
Truckers travelling from the UK were going hungry in Holland after the Dutch authorities confiscated ham sandwiches from drivers arriving by ferry from the UK under post-Brexit rules banning people from bringing meat and dairy products into the EU.
“Welcome to the Brexit sir, I’m sorry,” one official told a driver at the Hook of Holland ferry terminal.
A driver travelling from the UK had his ham sandwiches confiscated by Dutch border guards, who said they were now prohibited under post-Brexit rules.
Read more on this story: https://t.co/ajSssTuI9t pic.twitter.com/APb4XRsTxY
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 12, 2021
Companies abandoning entire markets
One of the UK’s biggest delivery firms DPD last week temporarily suspended deliveries to the EU because of the need to provide extra customs information, warning a fifth of parcels had incomplete or incorrect data attached and had to be returned to sender.
John Lewis has scrapped international deliveries, while Fortnum and Mason temporarily suspended sales to Northern Ireland and the EU. Debenhams closed its online business in Ireland “due to uncertainty around post-Brexit trade rules”.
On the other side of the border, the UK is being isolated.
One company, Dutch Bike Bits, said it would ship to every country in the world apart from the UK partly because of “uncertainty due to Brexit”, but also because the government had decided to “impose a unique taxation regime will require every company in the world in every country in the world outside the UK which exports to the UK to apply and collect British taxes on behalf of the British government”.
“For providing this service they intend to charge a fee to every company in the world in every country in the world which exports to the UK.” the firm said.
“Clearly this is ludicrous for one country, but imagine if every country in the world had the same idea.”
Belgian firm Beer on Web also said it was stopping export to the UK “due to the Brexit measures”.
Some UK firms were meanwhile moving whole parts of their business out of the UK and into the EU to avoid checks.
Aston Chemicals told the Financial Times that rather than sending weekly truckloads to the EU from Britain, it would instead import all chemicals for European customers to a subsidiary in Poland.
The move means the firm will pay more tax in the EU and employ fewer people in the UK.
Leavers repeatedly promised British fisherman that Brexit would allow them to “take back control” of UK waters.
But instead seafood exports have been snarled up with lengthy delays including mountains of paperwork and lengthy vet health checks that can take up to five hours.
Donna Fordyce, chief executive at Seafood Scotland, has said exporters faced “new bureaucratic non-tariff barriers” with no one body able to fix the situation.
“It’s a perfect storm for Scottish seafood exporters. The end of the Brexit transition period has unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion,” she said.
Jamie McMillan of Scotland’s Lochfyne Langoustines meanwhile warned the government: “If Scottish exporters can’t get their product to market next week, we will be at the gates of Westminster and we’ll be dumping our shellfish on your doorstep, rotten.”
ENOUGH is ENOUGH WE CANT GET OUR PRODUCT into the EU MARKET WE are facing BANKRUPTCY get it sorted @Ianblackford_MP @FergusEwingMSP @Feorlean @michaelgove @scotfoodjames @BorisJohnson @ScotGovFM @BBCJamesCook @itvnews @BBCNews @scotgov @ScotTories pic.twitter.com/MtRpEMx44N
— Lochfyne langoustines Ltd & Lochfyne seafarms Ltd (@LochfyneLangous) January 13, 2021
It’s not just Scotland either, after Brixham fish merchant Ian Perkes told the BBC he was no longer able to export his fish to France because his firm had been “inundated with paperwork”.
“At the moment we’re stuffed,” he said.
So glad Boris saved brexit
"We're stuffed" - Brixham fish merchant Ian Perkes says he's unable to export his fish to France now the new post-Brexit rules and regulation have come into force. pic.twitter.com/FG4Z4IuXnP
— Derek Smith (@DerekSm15833987) January 6, 2021
The Kirkella trawler which supplies 8-12% of all fish sold in UK fish and chip shops has meanwhile been unable to operate because the UK has yet to strike a fishing agreement with non-EU countries in sub-Arctic waters, where the fish are caught, like Norway.
Scottish MPs in particular are fuming, but Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told them the fish were now “better and happier” because they are “British fish”.
Fisheries minister Victoria Prentis was criticised for revealing she had not read the Brexit trade deal on Christmas Eve because she was busy organising a nativity trail.
But the government has since suggested it could offer compensation to fishing firms hit by Brexit export problems.
Overly honest moment of the day: Defra minister Victoria Prentis admitted she was too busy "organising the local nativity trail" to read the fisheries agreement in the Brexit deal when it was published on Christmas Eve pic.twitter.com/SM4AjgHoCD
— Alain Tolhurst (@Alain_Tolhurst) January 13, 2021
Percy Pigs blocked
While Johnson’s deal achieved tariff and quota free trade between the UK and EU, complicated so-called “rules of origin” have been introduced for goods flowing both ways.
The rules mean UK firms have to prove where all the parts of the goods that they sell to the EU come from, and have hit Marks & Spencer’s exports of Percy Pigs to Ireland.
The sweets are manufactured in Germany then shipped to the UK, avoiding tariffs under the terms of the deal.
But to then move them on to Ireland they start to fall under rules of origin because they are not British made and therefore the system views their origin as uncertain.
That means a tariff may need to be paid to get them back into the EU simply because they have been stored in the UK, forcing M&S to temporarily stop selling them in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The rules actually affect hundreds of M&S products which the retailer has had to stop selling on the island.
Michael Gove has warned there could be “significant disruption” at ports like Dover in the coming weeks as cross-Channel trade returns to normal levels.
But even with reduced traffic at the ports, the Road Haulage Association last week said around one in five trucks were being turned away from Channel ports, while ferry company DFDS said there was a “high volume of vehicles being refused and delayed”.
Information in regards to Customs Channel Documentation🚛🚛🚛 pic.twitter.com/XfbFBTg5fW
— DFDSChnlFreight (@DFDSChnlFreight) January 8, 2021
Ireland meanwhile was forced to temporarily ease post-Brexit customs checks after a number of trucks were denied boarding at Holyhead port in Wales before heading to the Republic.
And ferry companies including Stena Line and Irish Ferries have diverted services to avoid UK routes and provide “Brexit-busting” services due to the mountains of red tape.
Breaking news: in another Brexit-busting move our new vessel Stena Embla is NOT starting from Belfast as planned. She's being deployed on our Rosslare to Cherbourg route from tomorrow. It can add 3km of trucks & 175 comfy cabins - that's a lot of sleep-happy truckers. #brexit https://t.co/IrkDmnS8Np
— Stena Line Group (@StenaLine) January 13, 2021
Northern Ireland checks
Northern Ireland has been placed in a unique position as part of the Brexit arrangements negotiated by Johnson and Michael Gove, having to follow EU rules on goods in order to maintain an invisible land border with the Republic.
But this has meant extensive controls and checks are needed for goods crossing to Northern Ireland from the UK mainland.
In response, many companies are now trying to source products from the island of Ireland rather than bring them over from the UK mainland.
But in just one example of the disruption, this meant Sainsbury’s was last week forced to stock its shelves with Spar products after signing a deal with the Henderson Group food wholesalers, which supplies a network of 450 Spar and Vivo stores across Northern Ireland.
Gove has since promised to work to alleviate some of the difficulties, but much of that will need EU agreement.
I’ve been sent pic of Sainsbury’s in NI (Lisburn) stocking meat from Spar, which is making folk curious - tho not clear exactly why. /6 pic.twitter.com/fZ2138X3xX
— Peter Foster (@pmdfoster) January 6, 2021
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.