Too Little, Too Late
Belatedly the government has been reported to be undertaking contingency planning to avoid immediate severe disruption in the event of a No Deal with the European Union (EU). Yet these undescribed, unproven, hopefully temporary, measures, even if feasible, are likely to flounder on the two unanswerable issues, for how long and how is recovery to normal to be achieved afterwards? Disruption for many and the economy as a whole (the ‘cliff edge’) are likely then to go on for a long time. This situation, of needing contingency planning, has arisen due to the government’s shambolic complacency, failure to understand how the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) works and recklessness s in deciding to leave the Single Market without a plan for frictionless trade.
Temporary Measures need long-term solutions
Whilst it is obviously possible to introduce emergency or short term measures to, for example, stockpile drugs, food, and components to avoid supply chain delays, hire electricity generating capacity to keep the lights on, beg the Americans to licence our airports to allow planes to land and turn the M20 into a lorry park for Dover etc. this is only part of the problem. Stockpiles eventually run out, short-term electricity generating contracts expire, and the US Federal Aviation Administration would (probably) need increasing resources as time goes by. Temporary measures then have different lifecycles before they effectively expire and need to be replaced by more permanent or longer-term solutions, in this case by negotiating a practical Brexit that is agreed by the EU which facilitates largely frictionless trade.
Recovery to normal is slow
Yet emergency measures create further problems with the subsequent recovery to normal. They effectively create a different situation. Customers go elsewhere. Business cash flow and profitability deteriorates. Supply chains get re-configured. The production lines that produced the steady flow (of production) and then the stockpiles, with nothing then to do, could have been switched to something else. Similarly electricity generating capacity on the Continent used to top-up supplies in this country, in the absence of a UK customer, could be supplying domestic customers. And with airports the European Air Safety Administration could have sent into earlier retirement staff it no longer needs so even if EU legislation was changed, to allow it to resume its role in the UK, it could not.
The effects of perturbations tend to last long after the original cause has apparently ceased before anything like normal conditions are restored, if ever. That needs to be included in the original contingency or emergency planning – a viable long-term recovery plan for getting back to normal afterwards under changed conditions.
The Government caused the problems
Contingency planning for No Deal arises because of government reckless mishandling of Brexit negotiations and failure to understand how the EU and EEA works. There has never been a practical plan for leaving the political structures of the EU whilst retaining frictionless trade largely as at present. The government’s latest efforts, its White Paper is unworkable and unacceptable to the EU leading effectively to a No Deal situation. There also appears to have been no risk analysis and, therefore, no effective risk management of the various options for leaving the EU. This should have been an early priority to ensure that potential disruption to trade was minimised and any adverse effects mitigated. Then advice or guidance could have been provided to all stakeholders (businesses, regulators, Customs etc.) here and in the EU in plenty of time instead of in a panic.
The Government has ignored readily available information
Yet the information both for contingency planning and to avoid the need for it in the first place has been readily available for some time. From early on the EU has been spelling out on their dedicated website in impressive (or terrifying) detail their ‘public’ vision of where Mrs May’s Brexit is heading and the implications, which often look like business enterprise ‘falling off a cliff edge’. Their preparedness section and Notices to Stakeholders (Preparedness notices) repeatedly spell out, as far as they can, what will undoubtedly happen across a wide range of activities and policy areas when the UK becomes a ‘third’ country after leaving the EU (on 29th March 2019) and the EEA. Recently they have gone further in COM(2018) 556 Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 30 March 2019. Detailed analysis is also available in many of the posts on Eureferendum.com and Campaign for an Independent Britain also often considers practicalities.
A (Temporary) Practical Solution is Available
Rather than being trapped under EU hegemony, as Mrs May is leading us into with her White Paper, or a chaotic No Deal situation, we could remain in the Single Market under different, much more flexible conditions by re-joining the free nations of Europe in The European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA/EEA route is far better enabling us on 29th March 2019 to leave the political EU and its alien, autocratic straightjacket whilst still trading, as now, with the Single Market. As a temporary or longer term measure it could buy time for Free Trade Agreement negotiations. (see also here, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com). Even, now it is not too late to address the misconceptions about the EFTA/EEA route or organise a change of direction, from impractical chaos to the least disruption, effectively maintaining frictionless trade. However, time is running out and some crisis planning is becoming increasingly necessary to buy time for even for the EFTA/EEA route.
Contingency Plans will show government failings
The government’s contingency plans for No Deal when they emerge are also likely to show a level of preparedness and advice that is woefully inadequate. Preparedness to date lags far behind other countries in providing the necessary resources and, once the public is informed, would show up government failings, not least in being honest with the people of this country. Worrying news, information and rumour is likely to encourage public unease.
‘If one was to take this notice at face value, therefore, the effect of a “no deal” Brexit is to expose exporters to an amount of paperwork. Nothing else is discussed. There is not the slightest clue of the problems confronting different sectors, from chemicals to medicines, motor vehicles and aviation parts, live animal exports (including racehorses), foods of animal origins, and the whole host of manufactured goods which require third party testing’.
Advice needs to be realistic, expanding on the EU’s work and provide recommendations, useful background, durations, long-term recovery plans, examples, checklists etc. However, providing this information would again expose the failings of the government to date. And if advice turns out to be wrong could the government (and taxpayers) be sued for compensation or consequential losses? However, not providing adequate advice would indicate poor government competence and encourage further mistrust and public unease.
Mrs May’s Government cannot be part of any practical solution
It is difficult to envisage those who chose the path to a highly disruptive No Deal Brexit, being part of a change of direction to a practical, minimal disruption, Brexit. Surely they must know by now that their dithering, grandstanding and wishful thinking is going straight to the ‘cliff edge’ for much commercial activity. Yet the delusion and vacuity continues, for example, in Mrs May speech 20th July 2018 in Northern Ireland. In any case in an emergency absolute confidence in the authorities, their contingency plans, advice and actions is critical.
Confidence is built on truth and competence which indicates strongly that a new team at the heart of our Brexit efforts is required. Worryingly, instead we are getting a further concentration of power into Mrs May’s hands. There are also reports of contingency plans being used for political purposes to scare people into accepting Mrs Mays Brexit White Paper, Project Fear 2. Yet only the Conservative Party can initiate the necessary change, from the top down – the longer the delay the worse the potential damage.