LONDON — It doesn’t take the customs officer long to find the contraband stashed inside the car that he’s just pulled over. Not guns, drugs or people smuggled over the border — but a ham sandwich wrapped in tinfoil.
“Welcome to the Brexit, sir, I’m sorry!” the convivial Dutch border official says with a chuckle as he confiscates the illicit snack.
The footage broadcast by Dutch TV network NPO 1 might seem farcical. But the official was merely acting on new rules that came into force after the post-Brexit United Kingdom stopped using European Union regulations on Jan. 1.
Before Brexit, the U.K. was part of the E.U.’s “single market” that allows people, goods, services and money to travel freely around the continent with little or no checks at all.
In December, the two sides agreed a new trade deal to replace their old partnership, and this came into force at the start of this year. Since then businesses and travelers have been waking up to the reality that the new system has the potential for serious disruption.
The driver in the video had traveled from the U.K. to the Netherlands — which is still one of the E.U.’s 27 member countries.
The driver appeared surprised at having his lunch impounded — “can’t I just take off the meat and leave the bread?” he asked in disbelief — but the new rules are clear. British government guidance warns people they cannot carry in their personal luggage “products of animal origin such as those containing meat or dairy,” for example “a ham and cheese sandwich.”
That’s because the E.U. is worried that anything imported from the newly departed U.K. — which now follows different regulations — could “present a real threat to animal health.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. The Netherlands’ customs agency posted on Facebook a photo showing a pile of food, including a carton of orange juice, cereal and a box of oranges, which it confiscated from drivers arriving at the ferry port in the town of Hook of Holland.
But while travelers having their lunches seized might be annoying, the real impacts of Brexit are being felt by businesses.
In the long run, the Office for Budget Responsibility, a government watchdog, says the deal negotiated by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to weaken the British economy by 4 percent compared with if it had stayed in the E.U.
Already firms are saying confusion brought by new border checks has seen hold-ups and goods not arriving at their destination. Scottish salmon producer John Ross Jr wrote in an open letter that “it feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a lifejacket.”
Brexit has also caused disruption inside the U.K. itself. Extra paperwork has meant delays and empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. but is treated differently in terms of trade under the new post-Brexit deal.
Some British online retailers have said they are no longer able to ship to Northern Ireland — even though it’s all part of the same country.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told Sky News last week that “significant additional disruption” is expected in the coming weeks, and that the government needed to “redouble our efforts to communicate the precise paperwork that’s required.”
Confiscated ham sandwich highlights new reality for U.K., E.U. The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ NBC News.