No Deal Brexit Alarm

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The UK government ran a much-mocked exercise yesterday where 89 trucks were involved in a feasibility study to hold up to 6000 vehicles at a disused airport in Kent. The idea was to generate a holding facility to ease congestion at the port of Dover should customs inspections be required in the event of a “no deal” Brexit. The port handles 10000 trucks a day and is the major artery for freight traffic passing between the UK and continental Europe. According the port, it currently takes an average of two minutes to process a lorry through customs; they say that were this to double to four minutes (a fraction of the time needed to clear a truck if customs inspections and more paperwork becomes necessary) it would produce a 17 mile tail back of trucks queuing to get into the port.

This is just an example of one port that would be affected by a crash-out Brexit. The government has suggested that 3500 troops may be needed to help in such a scenario. Food shortages (certainly for imported, perishable goods) and medicines are also likely. A no deal Brexit is a national exercise in self-harm that risks severe economic fallout and the potential for civil unrest (only 37% of the electorate ever endorsed Brexit in the first place). Yet certain MPs, notably former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, are advocating it either as a hard schism or as a “managed” no deal which is probably the oxymoron of our time.

It is heartening to note that not all British politicians are gripped with Brexit insanity. A cross-party group of 209 MPs (roughly a third of all MPs) has written to the PM imploring her to rule out a no deal Brexit since it represents an unacceptable risk and cannot gain parliamentary support. Such is the atmosphere in UK politics at the moment that the PM will certainly not rule out a no deal Brexit currently. The spectre of such an outcome is being used to cajole MPs into backing the withdrawal deal that Mrs May agreed with the EU. However, with the deal to be voted on later this month, it seems inconceivable that it will be passed by the commons with the DUP and dozens of Tory MPs openly stating that they will oppose it.

Another group of cross-party politicians, including the chairs of several select committees, are laying an amendment to the finance bill which, they hope, would limit the government’s financial powers should it opt for a no deal outcome. This move is likely to be the first of a number of such parliamentary manoeuvres designed to take the no deal option off the board. It is needed since, in the absence of an agreement, no deal is the default situation once the A50 notice period has expired. Of course, we now know that the government has the power to unilaterally revoke A50 notice and remain in the EU.

Dr. Mike Campbell is a British scientist and freelance writer. Mike got his doctorate in Ghent, Belgium and has worked in Belgium, France, Monaco and Austria since leaving the UK. As a writer, he specialises in business, science, medicine and environmental subjects.