Much is made of how society will have to adapt to living with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, even as we reopen progressively from lockdown.

Phrases such as "the new normal” are widely used to describe the future.

It is similar with Brexit and just as issues arise with vaccine roll-out, so too will issues arise with the operation of the new rules for trade between Britain and the EU.

Perhaps more accurately we should describe this as the restoration of trade under the old rules that were in place before the introduction of the single market in 1993.

Latest trade

The UK trade figures for February give an indication of what a future trade pattern between the EU and UK might look like.

They have rebounded from January, although are still below levels of February 2020.

This reflects the fact that the stockpiling effect is largely removed, although it will take several months of data before direct comparisons can be made.

Even then, the issue of COVID-19 has to be factored in, given the different timing of its impact on the EU and UK.

Small consignments not practical

What is already clear is that smaller shipments of goods that require veterinary certification are simply impractical outside the rules of the single market.

On the other hand, large single-truck consignments have adapted to the new circumstances and while there are delays compared with previously, they are manageable.

So also are the costs, when one veterinary certificate covers a 20t container compared with the need for 20 individual certificates to cover 20 different 1t consignments on a load of groupage.

A veterinary agreement would remove the need for most of the controversial checks that are taking place in Larne port.

There was considerable optimism at the beginning of this week that progress is being made on sorting out a longer-term arrangement for the functioning of the Northern Ireland protocol.

This is essential given the nature of much of the trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, which is large numbers of small consignments.

Roadmap to solution

The ultimate solution is for the UK to decide that it will align with EU veterinary standards in the way that Switzerland and Norway do as non-EU members. This enables them to avail of seamless trade for so long as they remain aligned.

If the UK could agree to the same - and there is no reason not to for the foreseeable future, as they are likely to remain aligned in any case - then it would be the basis for a solution to all trade in animal and plant products.

There is a question about this diluting in some way the UK’s independence from EU policy, but, again, if this is an agreement that the UK independently decides to enter into, it can also independently decide to withdraw from it at some future point should the need or desire arise. Such provision would be part of any agreement.

Dublin Port has the facilities in place for Brexit inspections and these would be much less busy if the EU and UK reached a veterinary agreement.

In any case, there is a view that political thinking has moved on for many to the extent that Brexit is now complete and just as most people envisage travelling to the EU for summer holidays, so also making arrangements for less complicated trade is likely to also resonate with people.

Brexit has been an emotional topic in Britain and indeed on the island of Ireland.

It is not something that will be reversed during the remainder of this decade, so it is a case of making the best of it and like COVID-19, learning to live with it by adapting and adjusting where we can.

Read more

Technical solutions can make Brexit work

Canada secures UK beef quota

John Bruton: A no-deal Brexit on 1 May?