Richard North, 12/10/2017  

"Planes could be banned from flying between Britain and Europe if we don't strike a trade deal with the EU, Philip Hammond claimed today". This is reported by The Sun after the Chancellor's appearance before the Treasury Committee yesterday, when he warned that all air traffic could "theoretically" stop the day after Brexit.

This is at last a high-level, if grudging, acknowledgement of something I actually reported on this blog in July 2014, under the title, "Brexit: grounding the UK airline fleet". I then posted a further report in January 2017, giving further and better particulars of a consequence of a "no deal" Brexit.

The 40-month delay between my report and the Chancellor's admission to the Treasury select committee is about typical of the lag between the public pronouncements of ministers and this blog, with many of the potential consequences set out in further detail earlier in this year, including one on air traffic management, which has scarcely been considered publicly by politicians or the legacy media.

This time round, Mr Hammond added, in respect of grounded airlines, "that no one 'seriously believes' such an outcome is likely to unfold", yet this is exactly the outcome if Mrs May takes us out of the European Union without a formal exit agreement.

Essentially, permission to fly in the airspace of "third countries", to land at their airports and to use their facilities is brokered internationally on behalf of the UK and other "community airlines" by the Commission and formalised in treaty agreements. Separately, UK airlines acquire rights in the territories of EU Member States by virtue of EU law.

Because of this, commercial access both to EU/EEA airspace and to third countries for UK registered airlines ceases to apply the moment we leave the EU unless replacement agreements are in place – something which is not going to happen if we leave without an exit deal. The thing the media and most others get wrong, however, is that British airlines will not be "banned" as such. Essentially, all but a tiny number of commercial flights are undertaken in controlled airspace, which no aircraft can enter without filing a flight plan. And without a destination or overflying rights, flight plans cannot be filed. Thus, UK commercial aircraft will not even be able to take off.

This is but one example of the potential harm occasioned by leaving the EU without a formal agreement. We have pointed out many more, from the damaging effects on Formula 1 to horse racing and even the hazardous area equipment market.

A crucial area of concern is the resumption of border checks on British goods entering the Single Market area, so much so that in July last year I was talking to the self-same Treasury Committee that Mr Hammond has so recently addressed, warning them of the effects of conformity assessment. I advanced the idea that, the day after we leave the EU, Operation Stack would go into effect in Kent and. By the end of the week, the M1 slow lane would be turned into a lorry park.

Despite the strong research base and my scrupulous attention to detail – and the fact that I expose my work to critical appraisal on a daily basis - there have been some who have accused me of exaggeration. But, with this intervention by Hammond, we are beginning to glimpse fragments of the truth leaking out from official channels. And each time we see the mask slip, it simply confirms what a number of us have been saying for many, many months.

What is remarkable though is the seeming determination of the legacy media to downplay the effects of a "no deal" exit. This, from the BBC is a classic example, purporting - with the arrogance typical of the state broadcaster – to give us a "reality check", telling us what "no deal" would look like.

As weak as dish-water, all it will commit to is a worst case scenario "that could mean that planes would be grounded temporarily, and drugs could not be imported". But no sooner is that thought lodged, then we are encouraged to bask in the "hope … that common sense would prevail". Some kind of interim arrangements would be made to keep things moving, the BBC declares: "It would be in the interests of neither the UK nor the EU for chaos to ensue".

This reflects my observation yesterday, where the implications of a "no deal" exit are so catastrophic that people simply cannot deal with them. They skirt round the potential consequences and either pretend they will not happen or that a last-minute solution will be found.

There also seems to me an effect akin to Stockholm Syndrome, where trade bodies and businesses are reluctant openly to spell out the consequences of a "no deal", for fear of upsetting their political masters and thereby reducing the access, influence and status.

Many trade associations sell themselves to their own members by boasting of access to and their good relations with relevant ministers and their departments, not mentioning the price paid for the access.

Slowly, though, the conspiracy of silence – if that's what it is – is breaking down. More and more voices are being heard, warning that Brexit might not be the "walk in the park" that the likes of David Davis would have us believe.

In that context, a reader recently referred me to this report on the impact of Brexit on the European fruit and vegetable industry. The industry itself is very far from being glamorous and is unlikely to attract the attention of the Chancellor and thus find itself reported widely in the legacy media.

Yet, what the European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel) – which published the report – has to say is devastating. The EU, it says, is a significant net-exporter to the U.K with a trade flow of 3.1 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables, worth about €4 billion annually. Next to animal protein, the sector will be most affected by the potential changes Brexit may bring.

Hampered by a shortage of data, Freshfel estimate the potential impact by giving the simple example of Spain which is annually sending 55,000 containers to Dover, with close to 6000 containers in each of the peak months of December/January.

Currently, the system works well, with no controls conducted at the point of entry. But the introduction of official control procedures and customs clearance, "will challenge the transport conditions and shelf life of the product. Given the logistical constraints and a presumed lack of capacity and preparedness in the ports itself, the arrival of fruit and vegetables might be delayed and the quality substantially affected. The report says:
The port of Dover as well as the port of Rotterdam and the Eurostar-connection starting from Calais are very critical bottlenecks of EU-UK fruit and vegetable trade. Dover and other channel harbours is a very narrow transit port with a lack of parking and storage facilities. With newly introduced border controls, including identity check, consignment check and customs clearance, as well as potential backlogs, the sector is strongly worried on the potential delays and waiting times, which could be harmful to the quality of the product.
With no confidence that electronic systems can be introduced in time, or fully integrated, the sector is concerned at the potential explosion of paperwork. Each container from Spain at Dover might need up to 20 different phytosanitary certificates given the mixed consignments, as well as certification of origins for each of the product. And, bearing in mind that there are no inspection facilities at Dover, this could present an impenetrable barrier.

Spanish growers, of course, would be badly affected but the loss of 6,000 container loads in the peak months to the UK market would have an effect far greater than the lettuce shortage experienced last February when bad weather damaged crops, cutting yields by 25 percent.

In a country which imports an estimated 50 percent of its vegetables and 90 percent of its fruit (although much of that from non-EU locations), we could be seeing prolonged shortages and significant price rises, before the market stabilised and adjusted to the new conditions.

What this example does is yet again demonstrate that, when you look at anything more than the superficial, multiple sectors will be badly affected and trade will be seriously disrupted. And in the Freshfel example, this applies – as do so many others - even without a "no deal" Brexit.

As the evidence mounts, we see that even a managed Brexit will create significant problems. To depart with no deal would be catastrophic. The only way this could be at all acceptable to the public at large is by keeping people firmly in the dark, which is precisely what the legacy media and the politicians are doing.

However, evidence from this blog and others – in terms of increasing traffic – suggests that people are waking up to the potential consequences. And they need to do so. Our politicians – by act or default – are selling us down the river while the media sits idly by, failing to do its job.

Claims of scaremongering and the resurrection of "Project Fear" need to be sharply dismissed. We are on the edge of a major crisis which is gathering pace with each passing day. It's becoming a choice between calling our politicians to account or going hungry. I know what I would prefer.

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