An­ar­chy in the U.K.

Brexit ‘prep­pers’ brace for a no-deal night­mare in Bri­tain

Newsweek - - Periscope - WORLD BY DAVID BREN­NAN @David­bren­nan100

the cup­boards of jo el­garf’s lon­don home are burst­ing with pro­vi­sions. Dried foods, tinned meat, cof­fee, pow­dered milk, even de­ter­gent. “Any­thing that has a long shelf life,” she says.

The hoard­ing be­gan a few months ago as Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors strug­gled to set­tle on the terms of the coun­try’s im­pend­ing divorce from the Euro­pean Union. Tabloids blared the prospect of a “no-deal Brexit,” and dooms­day sce­nar­ios quickly fol­lowed: grid­locked bor­der cross­ings, stran­gled sup­ply lines, grounded flights. The pound, an­a­lysts pre­dicted, would likely tum­ble while food and medicine stocks thinned and Brits faced a host of new im­mi­gra­tion re­stric­tions. El­garf, a 42-year-old mother of two, found her­self stock­pil­ing non­per­ish­able goods and im­ported prod­ucts.

And she’s far from alone. El­garf mod­er­ates a Face­book group called 48% Prep­pers—a ref­er­ence to the pro­por­tion of vot­ers who opted to re­main in the EU in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum. It now has more than 1,900 mem­bers, a third of whom joined within the past month. “I am just an av­er­age woman, with an av­er­age fam­ily, with a lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of Brexit. I am not one to panic,” says El­garf. “But I do not trust our gov­ern­ment to pre­pare.”

More than two years ago, pro­leave cam­paign­ers made grand prom­ises of a lib­er­ated Bri­tain, free to es­tab­lish lu­cra­tive trade agree­ments all over the world with­out Euro­pean hin­drance, while rein­vest­ing in the much-loved Na­tional Health Ser­vice.

The re­al­ity, how­ever, has been far more com­pli­cated. While Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has man­aged to strike an agree­ment with EU lead­ers, the fu­ture of the con­tro­ver­sial exit plan is far from cer­tain. Two Cabi­net min­is­ters have re­signed in op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing Bri­tain’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor, and Par­lia­ment, which must ap­prove the deal, re­mains skep­ti­cal and deeply di­vided. Now, with a loom­ing dead­line, Bri­tons are brac­ing for what po­lit­i­cal in­sid­ers call a “cliff edge” de­par­ture: crash­ing out of the bloc with no tran­si­tion pe­riod and no mea­sures to ease the shift from decades of EU law. Bri­tain would—at least in the short term—be with­draw­ing from Europe and the world. A no-deal Brexit could leave the is­land na­tion alone un­der a block­ade of its own mak­ing.

The rights and fu­tures of Euro­peans in the U.K. and Brits on the Con­ti­nent would im­me­di­ately be thrown into doubt, and a range of fi­nan­cial hur­dles would ap­pear, from in­creased credit card fees for shop­pers to a freeze on cross-bor­der op­er­a­tions for multi­na­tional banks. The gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing can­cel­ing all leave for po­lice of­fi­cers in case of civil dis­tur­bances, and the army has been put on standby to

help dis­trib­ute food, med­i­cal and fuel sup­plies if re­quired. The of­fi­cial line: bet­ter to be pre­pared for the un­think­able than not.

To be sure, the for­mal exit on March 29 is four months away, and May has un­til the end of the year to fi­nal­ize an agree­ment with the EU. But an­a­lysts say that sat­is­fy­ing com­pet­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sures at home and abroad could take more time. May is try­ing to hold to­gether a Con­ser­va­tive Party and a Cabi­net frac­tured into mul­ti­ple camps—pro­po­nents of a no-deal Brexit, those in fa­vor of a closer align­ment with the EU and those in sup­port of a sec­ond na­tional ref­er­en­dum. From the out­side, she is har­ried by op­po­si­tion par­ties keen to avoid a no-deal de­par­ture and faced with a frus­trated pub­lic. May has in­sisted a no-deal sce­nario would not be “the end of the world,” but if her pro­posed exit plan is re­jected, it would be one of the only paths out of the bloc.

Mean­while, gov­ern­ment no-deal guid­ance pa­pers—de­signed to soothe fears—have largely done the op­po­site, paint­ing a pic­ture of short­ages and chaos. Of­fi­cials are warn­ing that the 1.3 mil­lion Bri­tons liv­ing else­where in Europe could sud­denly lose ac­cess to Bri­tish bank­ing and pen­sion ser­vices. Bri­tish busi­nesses, they say, will have to grap­ple with ad­di­tional cus­toms checks. Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have been told to stock­pile vi­tal medicines.

The Novem­ber 2017 bud­get promised an ex­tra £3 bil­lion ($3.4 bil­lion) to help pre­pare for the Brexit de­par­ture. Though a spokesper­son from the De­part­ment for Ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union tells Newsweek that its “com­pre­hen­sive” prepa­ra­tion will min­i­mize “any risk of short-term dis­rup­tion to in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses,” the Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice—the gov­ern­ment’s ef­fi­ciency watch­dog—has sug­gested the emer­gency in­fra­struc­ture re­quired for cus­toms and bor­der se­cu­rity will not be ready by March.

Among the most press­ing con­cerns of a hard Brexit is the im­pact on sup­plies of day-to-day goods, which EU mem­ber­ship has al­lowed to flow freely across Bri­tain’s fron­tiers for decades. This con­ve­nience would end. Bor­ders could be choked as com­pre­hen­sive cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion checks be­come nec­es­sary. Bri­tain would be forced to fall back on World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion rules—the ba­sis on which coun­tries trade if they have no free trade agree­ment be­tween them. Un­der WTO terms, each na­tion has a list of goods for which they ap­ply tar­iffs when deal­ing with trad­ing part­ners, mean­ing in this case the U.K. would face more re­stric­tions and costs.

Dis­rup­tion to air travel could be es­pe­cially acute. The EU cur­rently gov­erns U.K. air ac­cess to 44 other coun­tries—in­clud­ing non-euro­pean na­tions like the U.S. and Canada— rep­re­sent­ing around 85 per­cent of all the U.K.’S air traf­fic. WTO rules do not cover avi­a­tion, mean­ing a deal must be done to keep planes fly­ing. Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and a group of ma­jor U.K. air­ports have warned that a sud­den Brexit could par­a­lyze Bri­tish air­ports.

But Rob Griggs, the pol­icy and pub­lic af­fairs direc­tor at Air­lines UK, a ma­jor trade group rep­re­sent­ing U.k.-reg­is­tered air­lines, says the or­ga­ni­za­tion is not ex­pect­ing planes to be grounded. At the very least, he said, a “bare-bones” agree­ment could be put in place “quite quickly” with the EU or in­di­vid­ual mem­ber states to keep air­craft fly­ing in the event of no deal, with a more de­tailed set­tle­ment ar­ranged later. “We’re con­fi­dent but not com­pla­cent,” Griggs says.

There is no such con­fi­dence around the sea­ports, where trucks are ex­pected to be lined up for dozens of miles. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to cre­ate mam­moth over­fill park­ing lots by repur­pos­ing high­ways near key ports, con­jur­ing up im­ages more at home in a dis­as­ter movie than on the lo­cal news.

The M26 high­way to the south­east of Lon­don, for ex­am­ple, is be­ing closed pe­ri­od­i­cally as the gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers its suit­abil­ity for emer­gency use. May’s Cabi­net has also re­port­edly dis­cussed char­ter­ing a flotilla of fer­ries to ship in vi­tal sup­plies if ma­jor ports are choked, draw­ing from Brexit crit­ics com­par­isons with the World War Ii–era evac­u­a­tion of Dunkirk.

At the Port of Dover, through which 2.5 mil­lion heavy-goods ve­hi­cles pass each year, au­thor­i­ties have warned that a mere two-minute de­lay in op­er­a­tion would cre­ate a 17-mile traf­fic jam on the M20 high­way lead­ing into Lon­don. Ian Wright, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Food and Drink Fed­er­a­tion, says ad­di­tional checks could take as long as seven or eight min­utes.

For driv­ers in the midst of the jam, the queues are just one el­e­ment of con­cern. In no-deal guid­ance pa­pers is­sued to the Bri­tish pub­lic, the gov­ern­ment noted that U.K. driv­ing li­censes may no longer be valid on their own in Europe af­ter a no-deal Brexit, which could force any mo­torists head­ing across the English Chan­nel to ap­ply for an In­ter­na­tional Driv­ing Per­mit be­fore set­ting off—and deal with the as­so­ci­ated fees and wait­ing pe­riod.

“I am not one to panic, but I do not trust our gov­ern­ment to pre­pare.”

At a gas sta­tion 2 miles north of Dover, truck driver Jamie—who de­clined to give his full name—tells Newsweek that the uncer­tainty over Brexit was “pretty con­cern­ing.” Jamie, who is orig­i­nally from the west coast of Scot­land, added, “There’s not much we can do about it, un­for­tu­nately. We just have to get on with it and see what hap­pens—it’s a wait­ing game now.”

Stranded trucks mean stranded food, of which 30 per­cent is im­ported from the EU. The gov­ern­ment has cre­ated a new min­is­te­rial post to over­see the pro­tec­tion of food sup­plies at the De­part­ment for En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs, but of­fi­cials are down­play­ing fears over short­ages. In­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, how­ever, are sound­ing the alarm. A re­cent es­ti­mate by Bar­clays Cor­po­rate Bank­ing sug­gested food re­tail­ers could face up to £9.3 bil­lion ($12 bil­lion) in ad­di­tional costs in a no-deal sit­u­a­tion, mean­ing higher prices for con­sumers.

“We’ve been ac­cused of scare­mon­ger­ing in the past,” Wright notes, “but it is scary.” For small pro­duc­ers, Brexit could be a mor­tal blow. While he sug­gested su­per­mar­ket shelves would not sud­denly empty, he did warn that Brits may have to get used to less va­ri­ety in their day-to-day shop­ping choices. A se­ri­ous dis­rup­tion in sup­ply would mean “the range of choice and prod­ucts avail­able would be very dif­fer­ent fairly quickly,” he says.

Jen­nifer Mcen­hill, 36, a Glas­gow, Scot­land, na­tive who works in ad­ver­tis­ing and lives in Lon­don, never saw her­self putting to­gether an emer­gency “Brexit box” af­ter vot­ing to re­main in the EU. A few months ago, though, she be­gan buy­ing slightly more than she would need and putting it to one side of her pantry—“the kind of things you see on lists for food banks,” she says. “There doesn’t seem to be a plan, and the gov­ern­ment shows very lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of how the lo­gis­tics and sup­ply chain for these mar­kets works. Best-case sce­nario, I won’t have to use it and this is stuff I’ll have over the next year.”

Bri­tons with chronic med­i­cal con­di­tions have more rea­son to be ner­vous. Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of the Bri­tish Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal In­dus­try, the U.K. im­ports around 37 mil­lion pack­ets of medicines from the EU each month, with an­other 45 mil­lion go­ing the other way. Cur­rently, all medicine ap­proved by the Euro­pean Medicines Agency can be sold in the U.K. But in a no-deal sce­nario, sud­denly only those OK’D by Bri­tain’s smaller reg­u­la­tory agency would be cov­ered.

But stock­pil­ing is dif­fi­cult with medicines with a short shelf life, like some can­cer drugs, or that re­quire re­frig­er­a­tion, like vac­cines and in­sulin, most of which is im­ported, much of it from the EU. These will also be at risk from air­port and sea­port de­lays.

El­garf, whose 4-year-old daugh­ter has epilepsy, uses med­i­ca­tion that is is­sued one month at a time. “My daugh­ter,” she says, “needs these meds or it could have un­speak­able con­se­quences.” In­clud­ing, she adds, sud­den death.

LONELY IS­LAND A no-deal Brexit could leave the U.K. alone un­der a block­ade of its own mak­ing. The pound, an­a­lysts pre­dict, would likely tum­ble while food and medicine stocks are re­duced.

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