Brexit Chaos: Will It Come, and Will It Spread?
Jon Stokes 08.20.18
As the UK’s departure from the European Union looms, it’s very difficult to tell how much of the increasingly dire warnings of Brexit-related chaos to believe.
One images that some of the rhetoric is just bitter Remainers out to show that the Brexit camp is wrecking the country, except for the fact that some of the starkest warnings about loss of access to food and basic services are coming from the Brexit camp itself.
This article by British writer Charlie Stross has been making the rounds, and it makes for sobering reading.
Current warnings are that a no-deal Brexit would see trade at the port of Dover collapse on day one, cutting the UK off from the continent; supermarkets in Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within a couple of weeks. After two weeks we’d be running out of fuel as well.
Note that this warning comes from the civil service, not anti-Brexit campaigners, and is a medium-bad scenario—the existence of an “Armageddon scenario” has been mooted but its contents not disclosed.
In the past month, the Health Secretary has admitted that the government is making plans to stockpile vital blood products and medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit, and the Brexit secretary is allegedly making plans to ensure there are “adequate food supplies” to cover a no-deal exit.
But before you say “well, then it’s going to be all right, we’ll just go back to 1939-54 era food ration books and make do and mend”, we need to factor in not only Donald Trump’s latest bloviations, but Global Climate Change! Europe is facing one of the most intense regional droughts in living memory this summer, with an ongoing crisis-level heat wave. Parts of the UK have had the least rainfall in July since 1969, with a severe heat wave in progress; Greece is on fire: Sweden is having a wildfire problem inside the Arctic circle this summer).
On a micro scale: I’m stockpiling enough essential medicines to keep me alive for six months, and will in due course try and stockpile enough food for a couple of weeks. I’m also going to try and move as much of my savings into other currencies as possible, preferably in financial institutions accessible from but outside the UK. (I expect a Sterling crisis to follow promptly in event of NDB. We saw Sterling drop 10% the day after the referendum—and certain people made a fuck-ton of money by shorting the stock market; I expect it to go into free fall if our trade with the EU is suddenly guillotined.)
On a macro scale:
Airports and the main container freight ports for goods entering the UK will shut down on day 1. There will be panic buying. I expect widespread rioting throughout the UK and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland (contra public received wisdom, NI is never quiet and this summer has been bad.)
A currency crisis means that goods (notably food) entering the UK will spike in price, even without punitive trade tariffs.
There will be mass lay-offs at manufacturing plants that have cross border supply chains, which means most of them.
In the event of a medium-bad scenario or worse, pandemonium won’t be limited to the UK, either. There’s now a warning to EU businesses from the EU side of the negotiations, to the effect that “business needs to prepare for a disorderly Brexit.”
The article goes on to state: “Amid the no-deal Brexit warnings, there are growing concerns Brussels will be hit harder than the UK if both parties fail to reach an agreement.”
How is it possible that some areas of the EU will have it worse than the UK? Apparently it comes down the difficulties associated with trying to move quickly and do crisis management in the context of the EU’s multi-country bureaucracy:
Member states will also have an individual veto on each attempt by Mr Selmayr’s powerful European Commission preparation.
“It will be very difficult to co-operate,” a EU official told The Times. “In most areas where we will need to act there will be national vetoes in play.
“All countries will be able to block.”
Britain is in a better position to implement any of its no-deal planning because of its status as a single state.
The UK Government will be able to make rapid decisions to circumnavigate the most hazardous consequences of a no-deal Brexit, which could include allowing European aircraft to land at British airports or suspending customs checks to ensure goods are able to pass through Dover.
As for the ripple effects elsewhere, it’s very hard to know what to prepare for. Like the UK, the US is a single state that can do whatever it takes to respond to any contagion in the financial markets or fear-based reactions here at home. So it’s not likely that this will hurt us too badly, but it never hurts to be prepared, regardless.
I think it’s possible that the biggest impact of a Brexit crisis will be to spur interest in preparedness here in the US. The sight of food lines and unrest in developed European countries will do to American minds what similar sights just to our south in Latin America have not.