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United Kingdom Completes Its Exit From The European Union


Europe rang in the new year by wrapping up one of the world's biggest divorces. At the stroke of midnight in Paris, the U.K. completed its exit from the European Union after decades of being a member. That means new regulations for trade and new challenges. To get a sense of the true impact, we have reporters on either side of the English Channel. Rebecca Rosman is in the French port city of Calais, and NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, is in the English port town of Dover. Good morning to you both.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Frank, I'm going to begin with you. After 4 1/2 years, Brexit is finally complete. What are you seeing? How have things changed?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Happy New Year.

FADEL: Happy New Year.

LANGFITT: Leila, what's really amazing is even on a day like today, New Year's Eve, you wouldn't have that much truck traffic. But there's almost nothing. I'm looking at the ramp right now. And a ferry just left, and I bet it was mostly empty. And the reason for that are these changes that you're talking about. You know, for so long, decades, you had practically seamless trade across the English Channel. And now you're going to have - you won't have customs. You won't have tariffs. You won't have quotas on products. That's a good thing because of a trade deal that they were - last-minute trade deal they got on Christmas Eve. But now it's going to be tons of customs forms, about $10 billion at a cost to businesses here. And I think that what's happening is a lot of freight companies are anxious. They don't know what it's going to be like. They're concerned about disruption. So they have not sent their trucks today. I was talking to a guy named Rob Hollyman. He's director of Youngs Transportation and Logistics. And he says he's not going to send his trucks here until maybe January 10. This is what he said.

ROB HOLLYMAN: We're kind of having a little look to see what's going on. It's so much money involved when you tie up a vehicle, trailer and driver, not to mention the goods in traffic jams, one-, two-, three-, four-day traffic jams. So we can't afford to tie them up in that length of time and not earning any money.

FADEL: So no disruption at the port for now, but we're barely into the new year. Will this last?

LANGFITT: That's a concern. Certainly, the government says they do expect some disruption this month. And there's another guy in the freight business called Dave Zaccheo, who I know. He runs a company called Alcaline UK. It's - and he is worried about his trucks, once they get over to Europe, getting stopped a lot and, frankly, targeted in places like France and the Netherlands. This is what he said.

DAVE ZACCHEO: Being the underdogs now that we've left the EU. And, obviously, spot checks could equate to heavy fines, potentially, if our paperwork's not in order. It was bad enough when we was members of the EU, let alone now that we've left the EU.

FADEL: So let's jump over the channel to France. Rebecca, Calais is the main port for goods going to and from the U.K. What does the situation look like now?

ROSMAN: French customs is really prepared. So this morning, we saw the first shipment of 36 trucks coming off the boat here in Calais from Dover. And I would say the whole thing took about five minutes. Only three of those trucks were sent to an orange lane, where they had to go through some extra customs checks. But everyone else went straight on their merry way. And France, you know, has invested a lot of money to make sure things run smoothly here. The government's hired 700 new customs officials and spent 13 million euros in new infrastructure, another 40 million in new software, so all customs forms can be filled out online in advance. Like Frank mentioned, you know, things could get chaotic once this holiday period ends come in January. And there is a bit of concern here that businesses aren't as prepared as the government for these new procedures.

FADEL: And, Rebecca, how will Brexit impact consumers and travelers more broadly?

ROSMAN: Well, because there's no tariffs or quotas on those products, costs (ph) aren't going to rise too much for consumers. In terms of travel, though, you know, passports now have to be valid for at least six months in order to travel. And British citizens traveling to the EU can only stay for 90 days. After that, you need a visa. And it's going to be vice versa for EU citizens traveling to the U.K. You'll also need travel insurance. And pets will need to be checked by veterinarians before crossing over the channel.

FADEL: You know, we've been talking about this day for more than four years now, and here it is. But how are people in France feeling about it?

ROSMAN: I'd say people are feeling pretty sad. And there's also a little bit of bitterness and criticism towards the U.K. Last night, president - French President Emmanuel Macron gave his annual New Year's Eve address to the nation. And he talked about Brexit. He said, you know, the U.K. is still always going to be our friend, of course. But he warned Brexit was a European malaise based on lies. I've been speaking people - with people here in Calais, as well, and they agree with Macron. I met a taxi driver yesterday. And he said Brexit was, you know, made on false promises that he thought could never be met. Another man I met who was fishing with his family near the port said he's struggling to understand how people could've voted that way four years ago. And he thinks that if there was a second referendum, things would be different now. But he also said, you know, it's time to move on. We're in a new year. And we just have to move forward.

FADEL: Frank, you've been covering this story since day one. As you look back on that vote in 2016, what are your thoughts as Britain moves forward?

LANGFITT: Well, it's really interesting. I mean, in a sense, Brexit is sort of over. But the big question - it's still a very divided country here. And the big question, is this going to be - cause decline, further decline in the United Kingdom? Or will, as Boris Johnson, the prime minister, promises - going to turbocharge the economy and lead to a great future? The other problem, the challenge is that Scotland voted to stay in the EU. And they're now - there's threats up there of a second referendum that they could use to try to leave the United Kingdom altogether.

FADEL: Thank you both so much for your reporting.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Leila.

ROSMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Rebecca Rosman