No-Deal Brexit: Catastrophe or Cakewalk?

LONDON — The idea was to show the British government could deal with the chaotic cross-channel truck traffic expected in the event of a cliff-edge, “no-deal” Brexit. But only 89 of the 150 trucks expected showed up for the exercise, despite the offer of $700 to participate. And even those who took part ended up dismissing “Operation Brock” as “window dressing” and “too little, too late.”

As Parliament prepares for a momentous debate over Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular plan to leave the European Union, it is often hard to tell if her government wants to convince people of the utter calamity of a no-deal exit — the better to secure passage of the proposal — or to reassure them that everything is under control. In the event, it seems to be failing at both.

In the past week, it has awarded a $17.5 million contract to provide ferry service to a company with no ferries and conducted the widely mocked Operation Brock.

Far from allaying fears, Michael Gove, the environment minister, gave a speech to a farm group last week in which he warned of devastating 40 percent tariffs on British beef and lamb exports after a no-deal Brexit.

“Today’s trial cannot possibly duplicate the reality of 4,000 trucks being held at Manston Airport in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” said Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.

“Of course, it’s good to have a plan in place but today’s limited scope trial will need to be repeated to stress-test other aspects of the management of thousands of lorries properly,” he added.

The government was criticized last week for awarding a ferry contract to a company called Seaborne Freight, which one lawmaker called a “shell company” and is managed by a man who ran a charter shipping company that collapsed in 2014. It then emerged that Seaborne was the only company that bid for the contract.

The firm was also ridiculed for echoing the website terms and conditions of a business specializing in takeout meals. In its original terms of conditions that have since been amended, customers were asked to check their products before “agreeing to pay for any meal/order.”

The Port of Ramsgate, which the contingency service has proposed to use, needs to be dredged before it can accommodate the ships and is unlikely to be ready by March 29, the date set for Britain’s exit, Beverly Martin, the town council member for the harbor area, warned on Monday.

Farmers also sounded the alarm last week, saying that the government’s technical notices confirmed their fears that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for British agriculture.

“A scenario where farmers face an immediate trade embargo for many of their products would have devastating effects, and would severely threaten livelihoods and businesses,” Minette Batter, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said in a statement.

After observing the government’s no-deal test run in Dover, Tom Peck, the political sketch writer for The Independent, summed up the futility of the government’s preplanned “tailback,” or traffic jam.

He called it “a government-organized tailback, put on to frighten the European Union into believing Britain is ready for no-deal Brexit, and not, as was palpably obvious, in the grip of a full on nervous breakdown.”


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