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What The End Of Brexit Means For Trade And Travel Between U.K. And Europe


On this New Year's Day, the relationship between Britain and the European Union has officially ended. At the stroke of midnight in Brussels, Britain left the EU's vast single market for goods and services and struck out on its own. That means new rules and regulations at the U.K.'s borders with the EU, like the ferry ports between Britain and France. Fearing congestion and delays, most truckers stayed away today but not our correspondent Frank Langfitt, who's spending the day in Dover on England's south coast, and reporter Rebecca Rosman, who's on the other side of the English Channel in the French port of Calais.

Happy New Year and welcome to you both.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Happy New Year, Audie.

CORNISH: So, Frank, I want to start with you. You're keeping an eye on what is probably a quiet day in terms of traffic. Who's out there?

LANGFITT: Just not many trucks at all. I mean, there would be stretches of 10 minutes you wouldn't see trucks even coming down the ramp to get on the ferries. And the reason for this is various. One is we're in the midst of another COVID surge, and the truckers actually have to get tests to cross back into France because of the high rates of COVID here in England. Another thing is there was a lot of stockpiling before Brexit. And the other thing is that people are staying away. There are a lot of new customs forms that they're going to have for the first time, lots of paperwork. And I think a lot of trucking companies wanted to just hang back a little bit and see how the new system worked before they committed.

CORNISH: Rebecca, I gather it's the same thing on the French side, but how did the French prepare for the day?

ROSMAN: Yeah, definitely very quiet here as well. Only 36 trucks came off the first ship that we saw coming in from Dover this morning. Normally, you'd see about triple that - again, for the same reasons that Frank mentioned - holidays, COVID. But I was standing next to the port director in Calais, a man named Jean-Marc Puissesseau, as these trucks were coming off. And he seemed kind of emotional, so I just asked him, you know, how are you feeling about all this? And here's what he said.

JEAN-MARC PUISSESSEAU: France is ready for the new organization and so and so. I am not sad. It's life.

ROSMAN: So at the end there, here's saying, oh, I'm not sad. This is life - c'est la vie. But you know, France is really ready. The French government has hired 700 new customs officers for Brexit, and there's 13 million euros they've invested in infrastructure as well.

CORNISH: After 47 years of British membership in the EU, the border, in a way, had dissolved. What does it mean for it to be built back up, so to speak? Frank, what does that actually look like going forward?

LANGFITT: Well, it doesn't look any different today than it would have looked before because people are simply - you know, they're driving down, and they're getting on the ferry as they always have. But they have all of these forms that have to be taken care of. I think more significantly, Audie, is just the sense that, for so long, there was such seamless trade here. And also, in terms of immigration, it was easy for people in France to come live here visa-free. That's all going - it's all changing now. And so I think you're just going to see less mixing. And the United Kingdom, frankly, is going to feel a lot more like an island than it did for the last number of decades.

CORNISH: Rebecca, what's the feeling among the French people today? Like, how are they responding to this essentially massive change in the relationship with their British neighbors?

ROSMAN: Well, here in France, I spoke with the mayor of a small fishing town not too far from here in Calais. It's very important within the fishing industry. It's called Boulogne-sur-Mer, and this mayor's name is Frederic Cuvillier.

FREDERIC CUVILLIER: (Speaking in French).

ROSMAN: He's speaking about the relationship between France and the U.K. And he's saying, you know, we've always had a relationship. At times, it's been somewhat tumultuous, yes, but that's just our history. You know, it's kind of like a wave - it goes up and down. And we'll always continue to have a relationship with the U.K., and not even Brexit can change that. And the European Affairs minister spoke in Calais today, and his message was that, you know, if there's ever a breakdown in the future with EU relations, the answer is not to quit but to work together to fix the problem. Macron - French President Emmanuel Macron gave a similar message last night on his New Year's Eve address to the nation here, saying that Europe is our destiny. And you know, he also didn't mince words on Brexit. He said this is the child of deception and lies.

CORNISH: Given that, Frank, pretty strong statement from Macron, what about the Brexiteers? Is this a moment of vindication for them in the campaign to leave the EU?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I think that they're delighted. This took an awfully long time, far longer than anyone imagined - 4 1/2 years. But they feel that they are taking back power for their country from Brussels, from the European Union, and they're going to have control of their borders. That's going to mean, frankly, slower economic growth. Every economist I talk to says that. On the other hand, for people here who felt that their communities were changing and too quickly - because of migrant labor in particular - they're hopeful that the England now will be a little more like the England they feel they grew up with.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. He's at a truck stop outside Dover, England.

Thank you so much.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Audie.

CORNISH: And Rebecca Rosman in Calais, France.

Thank you for your reporting.

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

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