tigerfort: (Default)
[personal profile] tigerfort
Content warning: Brexit

I've been meaning for a while to write about the effects of the worst-possible brexit case; that is, a no-deal hard exit with no preparations. I've been having persistent nightmares about it, why shouldn't everyone else?

Note that this is a worst-case scenario. I'm still hoping some politician/organisation with a spine, a brain, and a social conscience will manage to get the whole idiotic self-destruct called off so that we can start to repair the damage. My most-likely-outcome expectations are more along the lines of a fudge that keeps us in the single market and customs union for a couple of years, putting the country into permanent steady decline - not necessarily a slow decline, but avoiding the nastiest crash effects.

So, if the delusional and/or deliberately self-destructive wing of UK politics gets its wish, what happens after the cutoff on 29 March 2019? Remember, this is no deal with no prep for no deal.

Lets start with the straightforward things:

  • All air traffic in and out of the UK will immediately stop. Flights in and out of UK airspace are currently governed by EU internal rules and EU deals with non-EU countries. As a non-EU country, we would immediately cease to be covered by either, and there will be no legal way to enter or leave UK airspace.

  • All UK-owned/registered aircraft anywhere outside UK airspace will be grounded, for the same reasons; their legal rights to fly wherever they are come from EU membership.

  • I've been unable to find any shipping-related organisation that believes a hard brexit will occur, so they tend to gloss over it, but the situation for marine vessels appears to be slightly better. Not a lot, but they should (I think) still be able to dock in most places. The question of where UK-based companies (and UK registered vessels, which isn't necessarily the same thing) would be legally allowed to load and unload cargo looks to be complicated, however.

  • UK regulators will no longer be considered equivalent to their counterparts in the rest of the EU, or automatically regarded as competent authorities. Some examples of how this will affect people:

    1. Trivially, a UK driving license currently entitles you to drive a car anywhere in the EU. After brexit, this will not be the case. Oh, you moved to Spain a few years back and need to drive for work? Hope you've got a new license since you arrived on the continent.

    2. Separate from the license issue, goods vehicle operators from 3rd countries need a permit to work within the EU. It's been estimated that the UK, as a 3rd country, would be entitled to around a thousand permits. That's a tiny fraction of the number of UK lorries that currently go to and from the continent (and Ireland) every day. Presumably all the cargo of the rest has to be unloaded at the ports and put onto EU lorries for the rest of the journey - or just carried by EU lorries even within the UK. This won't kill anyone, but will probably cause about 100,000 job losses among UK lorry drivers. Assuming they survive long enough to be made redundant.

    3. If we stop being part of Euratom, it becomes very difficult to sell restricted radioactive isotopes to anyone in the UK. Most famously, this means much more limited radiotherapy. But it also makes a range of diagnostic technologies suddenly unavailable or much more restricted.

    4. Speaking of medical issues, leaving the European Medicines Agency means no-one in the UK will be considered competent to certify new drugs for use in the EU - or to import various categories of restricted medicines. This one is likely to kill more people than leaving Euratom, though still not nearly as many as the really big problems will.

  • And don't forget Ireland. No-deal means a hard border; means a breach of the Good Friday Agreement, means a return to armed arseholes blowing people up for being the wrong kind of Christian, or living in the wrong neighbourhood, or supporting the wrong kind of lizardpolitician. No prep for no deal means absolute chaos at that hard border, because the Irish Republic will have an absolute duty to the EU to protect the new external border from suddenly illegal transit of goods and people that are now used to going back and forth as they please. If hard brexit looks inevitable at the start of 2019, Ireland presumably will make some kind of preparation for it, however reluctantly. I don't know enough to try to guess how this would fall out, but I can't see it being pretty in the short term. (In the longer term, it might lead to a re-united Ireland as the UK falls apart; how good a thing that is I leave as a question entirely for the people it affects - ie, those who live in Ulster and Eire.)

But the biggie, in oh so many ways, is the ports ("ports" for the rest of this post, includes the Channel Tunnel). Given the need for extra customs checks (which the EU will implement even if our political idiotsleaders decide not to), and the absence of extra customs officers, there will be delays at all EU ports receiving significant traffic from the UK. The delays will inevitably be increased by the arrival at those ports of British goods (and vehicles) that don't have the paperwork required to import things into the EU, and which they didn't need the previous day. These lorries/goods will then either get impounded (further restricting the already overcrowded space available for customs checks) or put on the next boat back to the UK (bumping a lorry-full of goods that someone in this country was waiting for down the queue to the ferry after that).

So various EU ports will get rapidly log-jammed with incoming British vehicles that they can't handle. Even if everyone somehow has all the right paperwork (slight, rather than no, prep), the delays caused by the extra inspections will seriously reduce the number of crossings each ferry can make in a day. And thus, even without any checks in the UK, British ports will get jammed up too, because lorries will be arriving while the previous ferryload of lorries are still waiting.

Traffic is the least of our worries about this. OK, the pollution will be awful, and anyone who lives within [fx: checks the Dover Port Authority's current predictions] about 30 miles of a major port will be unable to go anywhere except on foot, and all deliveries of any kind within that area will take forever, but those are minor issues. (Lets be clear about what constitutes a relatively minor brexit problem, though: the estimated losses to the UK economy during "Operation Stack" were around £250 million per day, and plenty of small local businesses around Dover took a nasty hit or simply folded completely. This would be much worse than that, because it would hit every port simultaneously.)

The BIG problem is that, for every lorry that's queueing up to leave the UK or gets turned back at an EU port, there's also one that can't get its cargo to the UK. What happens to those? Well, they queue too, and all that stuff not arriving on time has results.

Every major factory in the UK, and a lot of smaller ones, will shut down within hours, because modern manufacturing margins for most products are thin and rely on just-in-time deliveries. Honda estimated that every 15 minutes of delay would cost them a million pounds. Millions out of work immediately, and if the delays last more than a few weeks, most of those factories will probably never open again.

Many medicines, especially those still under patent, are only made in one factory in the EU. Typically, the NHS has about a 24-hour stockpile for routine prescriptions of any given drug. If lorries containing medicine shipments are delayed by a few hours, that's probably not too bad. If they are delayed by a day, people start missing their medication. Either way, the stockpile is drastically reduced or gone entirely - urgently need a new prescription for beta-blockers filled? Tough, the earliest we can get extras (that is, supply above and beyond what we needed last week) is five days time. Hope your condition will hold until then! Depending on how bad the delays at the ports get, this is where the big fatalities start. Never mind approvals from the EMA for new-and-unusual stuff, millions of people in this country are reliant on daily medication to control their blood-pressure, or their neurochemistry, or their ability to digest food, or...

If the delay at the ports levels out at a less than a day, within a day, the deaths from delays in medicine supplies can probably be held down in the low double-figure thousands, maybe even single-figure. If there's a ten-day holdup, even temporarily, expect hundreds of thousands to die, because the hospitals will also be short of everything: anyone who has (for example) a stroke, or a heart attack, or an inflammatory bowel crisis, or some other acute problem caused by not getting their medication, is likely to be essentially untreatable.

So, millions of job losses and six figure deaths is the worst case is it? Well, no, actually, because we haven't yet covered the single biggest problem with import delays.

We import half the food we eat. And a lot of the fertilisers and other chemicals used to grow the other half, too. A single day's delay in supply from the continent will be enough to cause empty shelves and panic-buying even if nothing else goes wrong. If the delays are longer, though, things get very bleak indeed. The UK supermarket supply-chain contains roughly enough calories to feed everyone in the country for three days. Four million people needed assistance from food banks last year, and there will be millions more (I did see numbers, but can't currently find them) who don't have enough stored food in their house for more than a few days.

If there's a substantial multi-day delay, or a drop in the quantity of routine imports (the latter seems inevitable, frankly), the panic-buying by those who can afford to do it will strip the shelves more thoroughly. People who were food-insecure but not actually reliant on foodbanks will find that their daily/weekly shop is futile - they can't buy what they need. Donations to foodbanks will probably stop almost entirely. And millions of people will begin to starve.

In an actual worst-case brexit, the food riots almost certainly start within a week of exit-day. Even if government-enforced rationing were introduced, there still wouldn't be enough food to go round, because of the decreased traffic through ports. Rationing just introduces the option of a central choice between everyone starving slowly, and some people starving much faster. Depending on how recalcitrant the UK government is, and how determined whoever is in charge is not to admit that the UK is now a disaster-relief zone equivalent to - perhaps even larger than - any major natural disaster or war of the last 30 years, millions of deaths are actually plausible. In the case of a tin-pot Fascist like [names censored to avoid legal trouble] being PM and refusing aid because it's sneaky EU imperialism trying to stop the global free-trading UK being a success, that body count could hit ten million, and keep rising.

How high? Well, the population that can be fed from UK agriculture seems to be about 35 million; the current UK population is around 65 million. Some of those 30 million people will presumably find a way to flee the country, and food imports won't stop completely unless no-one can pay for them (and someone orders that aid be refused/rejected). I'd expect a hard cap of maybe 20 million dead and another 10 million [edit: seeking asylum or in refugee camps escaping the country, whether to work elsewhere or to be fed by international aid groups in large camps][1]. That's the worst it could be. Comforted?

[1] a friend with much better knowledge of international law than I have points out that to be a refugee you need to be fleeing specific targetted persecution. I'm not sure I see a way for things to get this bad without an intentionally malicious UK government, but even then there will probably be more people fleeing than just those the mad king is actively targetting. Qualifying for asylum is considerably harder. While the casual use of the words is rather broader, for this purpose I should probably try to use them correctly, since it makes a substantial difference to the outcomes. See also the first part of this comment, which is considerably more speculative.

ETA: For clarification, and what comfort it's worth, I think the chances of the death count hitting tens of millions are pretty low, even in the event of no-prep-no-deal. Hundreds of thousands might well die while parliament twiddles its thumbs and asserts that this is all somehow the EU's fault and not theirs. Extending that into millions requires a slightly longer denial of reality, failure/refusal to introduce rationing, and so on. Tens of millions requires parliament - or just over half of it, at any rate - to co-operate with a leader actively trying to reduce the UK to a crazy dictatorship. That (sadly) seems a lot less implausible than it did a year ago, but still pretty unlikely.

And to think, back when I was young and naive - before, and even shortly after, the referendum - I thought that the worst case was millions of job losses, total loss of the UK's political and economic standing in the world, and a body count in the tens of thousands. What imagination I lacked for just how stupid and blind our political class is; how far the right wing would push for their coup, and how much the opposition would fail to oppose...

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-13 12:37 pm (UTC)
strange_complex: (Me Half Age party)
From: [personal profile] strange_complex
Oh - [personal profile] miss_s_b just linked to this, and as we already follow each other on Twitter (where I'm pjgoodman), I'm going to subscribe / grant access to you here now as well.

In other news, I'm just off down the shops to stockpile cans and medication...

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-13 03:22 pm (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Watercolour of barn owl perched on post. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
I am definitely going to stockpile food.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-14 05:58 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
I'm planning on increasing my current stockpile, if nothing else because I know others who can't easily stockpile anything.

(In general I would like church communities to be taking the potential scale of this much more seriously but I have no idea how to engage in a way that doesn't get me labelled a fearmongering remoaner, so.)

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-14 10:02 am (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Watercolour of barn owl perched on post. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
Considering one of the wardens in the benefice was a UKIP councillor, I can't see that working at all where I am...
Edited Date: 2018-06-14 10:04 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-14 12:22 am (UTC)
sir_guinglain: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sir_guinglain
Brilliant, and horrific.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-14 08:34 am (UTC)
cmlc: Some happy Dutch people at the Louvre (Default)
From: [personal profile] cmlc
Well, I'm convinced. Thank you. But I have a couple of follow-on questions, and I'd love to know your thoughts:

Firstly - these 10 million seeking asylum or in refugee camps - where? How would they get there? Because my impression, for instance by following Medecins Sans Frontieres on twitter, is that the EU has for some years now been deliberately murdering people on a wide scale rather than let them seek asylum or reach a refugee camp.

Secondly - the virtual halt of all trade into and out of the UK, and the death of the UK finance industry and the City of London - this is going to have a pretty bad effect on the entire world finance industry, isn't it? World financial collapse?

More thoughts. The UK's semi-democracy couldn't survive a disaster like this - presumably if any sort of functioning polity remained, it would be some sort of totalitarian dictatorship? Or perhaps several competing ones: civil war, anyone?
Edited Date: 2018-06-14 09:34 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-16 10:19 am (UTC)
gossmore: (mewful)
From: [personal profile] gossmore
A bunch of the University of Kent cohort of my age have left the UK: all skilled IT people, and over several years but accelerating recently the friends or friends-of-friends have all found perches elsewhere.

Some people did some work about insulating oneself from supply chain wobbles about ten years ago. In the fervid atmosphere of 2010 it didn't seem quite implausible, and seemed quite important to keep three months' of food and six months of any prescriptions to hand.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-17 12:05 am (UTC)
gossmore: (nerd)
From: [personal profile] gossmore
Better opportunities elsewhere, I suppose: the UK's lost decade cutting real wages by 10%. A friend told me of UK agencies trying to recruit contractors *in the Netherlands* and getting laughed at by the people they were contacting, about the level of wages they were thinking people would accept. Those particular chickens are also coming home to roost; a perfect storm.

(Thank you! You may see more of me on twitter now too.)
Edited Date: 2018-06-17 12:49 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-16 12:32 pm (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Watercolour of barn owl perched on post. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
A friend of mine is a lawyer in the Frankfurt area and hie has exactly the same impression of banks and large companies taking steps to move there.

Grim, indeed....

Date: 2018-06-16 11:43 am (UTC)
akicif: Slightly 'shopped stonehenge pic, summer solstice 2001 (Default)
From: [personal profile] akicif
May I share this, please?

Re: Grim, indeed....

Date: 2018-06-17 10:38 am (UTC)
akicif: Slightly 'shopped stonehenge pic, summer solstice 2001 (Default)
From: [personal profile] akicif
Many thanks!

(So far, I've had one "The EU wouldn't let it happen"....

Re: Grim, indeed....

Date: 2018-06-22 10:30 pm (UTC)
gossmore: (mewful)
From: [personal profile] gossmore
A reason to actually close the tunnel, I guess...

can I share this?

Date: 2018-07-12 03:38 pm (UTC)
kaixo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaixo
I'm actively making plans to move. Hopefully by October, tbh. I am not skilled, but I am willing to cook and clean just to be in a society where I can observe the horror instead of being a part of it.


tigerfort: (Default)

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