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Corona Overshadows EU-UK Divorce

uropean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (C) and EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (L) attend a press conference on the post-Brexit trade talks in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 24, 2020. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong/ians)

Britain and the European Union (EU) struck a post-Brexit trade deal on Thursday, which will have many implications for everyday life and Britain’s future relationship with other countries.

While many Britons hailed the historic deal, some were less enthusiastic about it, worrying that any form of Brexit, combining with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, will make things quite different here in 2021, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

Richard Wilson, chair of Leeds for Europe which is a pro-EU group in Britain, said he saw Brexit as an absolute defining moment, both for Britain and Europe.

However, “the negative impacts of Brexit have been very much overshadowed by the coronavirus. I mean, talk about the high street, it’s been devastated by coronavirus — we’re still in Tier Three here in Leeds. We’ve been for some time now. So our shops have been restricted and our retail establishments, hospitality, have been shut down for several months,” Wilson said.

Wilson left his role as a member of the Green Party to found and become chair of the pro-EU group after the 2016 Brexit referendum. He said he believes that Britain benefits when working closely with Europe, not against it.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen via video link from the Cabinet room after completing the Brexit deal. (Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street)

In his hometown of Leeds in north England, he has noticed how both Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have really impacted the local economy.

“We’ve been saying for this year that one crisis at a time is enough. Why on earth are we imposing a second crisis on ourselves when we’ve got one massive crisis that we’re already dealing with?” Wilson said.

For Leeds, which is regarded as an international city, Wilson is concerned that its industries that previously crossed borders — manufacturing, financial, legal — and its universities may be badly impacted by any form of Brexit.

“Companies are downsizing or relocating, the major one near here is Haribo, the sweet manufacturer. They’ve announced lots of redundancies. They haven’t explicitly blamed it on Brexit. But I think reading between the lines, that is one of the inevitable impacts of Brexit,” he said.

In Hull, the ferry service that used to run between there and Zeebrugge, Belgium, has been cancelled.

Lord David Frost, Chief Brexit Negotiator, returns to the UK at RAF Northolt, Greater London, following succesful post-Brexit Free Trade Deal Negotiations in Brussels with the European Union delegates.

“We know for sure that there are going to be trade barriers going up one way or another, whether it’s deal or no deal, we know that our freedom of movement is being taken away. And all of these things will be detrimental to business, to jobs, to prices. So I think they’ll affect everybody really one way or another, depending on what their work is,” he said.

Wilson anticipated that Brexit will have a huge impact next year, mainly because he believes a lot of issues are being overlooked in order to get a deal.

With Leeds for Europe, Wilson said the group will continue to monitor the impact of Brexit deep into next year.

One year on, Alexander Shedden, a father of two children who both have Type One diabetes and rely on timely supply of insulin for treatment, still does not have the answers to how insulin will be supplied to his children in Britain after Brexit.

Shedden first raised his concerns to Xinhua last year, stating that any delay in the supply of insulin to his children and to diabetics who rely on the medication could have a serious impact on their health.

For the past few months, Shedden has been on a number of Britain’s revenue and customs webinars regarding the importation of medical supplies and said that he still is not reassured that the structures are in place.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson bilateral meeting with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

With just over a few days to the new year, and with the impact of the coronavirus on international supply lines, Shedden is beginning to get seriously concerned.

“Insulin suppliers, Novo Nordisk, for example, do have a buffer stock in the UK. And presumably, they’ll try and get ahead of the queue in terms of bringing stuff in,” Shedden said.

But the issues that Brexit and the coronavirus may have on the ports could force stress on the air freight industry — where insulin will most likely be transported into Britain.

“I think the insulin suppliers are stepping up to the mark as far as they can do. But I still don’t think there’s any true understanding of what the magnitude of the problem we have is,” he said.

Brexit has not only affected his children’s life, but also his own.

Recently, Shedden, a contractor, was turned down from working in an EU country because of Brexit.

“I could have just applied for it in Belgium. I could have just signed a contract, commuted over there to get the job. Now I would need to prove that I am there not only on the right person for the job, but that there isn’t a Belgian person who could do the job better, or who could be allowed to have the job, who could train up to do the job. My qualifications may or may not be relevant,” he said,

These issues, he told Xinhua, just show how out of touch those leading the calls for Britain to leave the EU are with the rest of the population.

“They just don’t know… they haven’t thought them through. And they don’t understand that they were actually a problem in the first place,” he said.

Both Shedden and Wilson hope that once Britain has left the EU, it will look at ways to reconnect with the regional bloc so that disruption to supply lines and lives can be minimized.

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