Richard North, 04/06/2018  

The newspaper could have worked something out for itself. But, after decades of spoon-feeding, The Sunday Times needed a "leaked" report from government sources to "reveal" what we've writing about for years.

Thus, with breathless self-importance, it devoted its front page to telling us that Britain (not the UK) "would be hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within a fortnight if the UK tries to leave the European Union without a deal".

Its source was a "Doomsday Brexit scenario", said to be drawn up by senior civil servants for David Davis. Whitehall, we were informed, had begun contingency planning for the port of Dover to collapse "on day one" if Britain crashes out of the EU, leading to critical shortages of supplies.

Nevertheless, it seems, it was only last month that officials in Davis's Brexit department and the departments of health and transport drew up these scenarios for a no-deal Brexit. Supposedly, there were three levels, mild, severe one and one dubbed "Armageddon".

Conveniently, the newspaper now has a source that tells it: "In the second scenario, not even the worst, the port of Dover will collapse on day one. The supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within two weeks".

It is beyond irony, of course, that tucked away in the ghetto in The Sunday Telegraph is Booker doing his own bit of "revealing" about the Notices to Stakeholders – documents which could have told The Sunday Times all it would have needed to report on all the "shortages" that will hit us if we leave the EU without a deal.

Such information, freely in the public domain, would have been available to any newspaper – had they cared to use it. But not a single national newspaper, nor any of the broadcast media, have elected to use that which the European Commission so conveniently provided.  

Instead, in the manner of an industry where nothing exists until one of their number has "discovered" it, they all waited for the ST to run the story. Then, in a riot of coprophagia, most of them followed suit, with variations which increasingly included government denials and, in the Telegraph, claims from their favourite son, Jacob Rees-Mogg, that the revelations were "fear on speed".

So we see the media bubble run a story through its usual phases, from "revelation" to coprophagic dissemination, through to official denial and then to the contradictions, all within the space of 24 hours. This morning, the story is spent. The dogs have barked and the caravan has moved on, leaving the story residue to be mopped up by the locals and foreign press.

No a single publication, though, has looked at the substance of the initial "revelations". The story has been handled on a superficial "he says – she says", biff-bam" basis. There has not been the slightest attempt to ascertain what the situation might actually be in less than ten months' time.

The thrust of what Mogg so airily dismisses as "fear on speed" - backed up by his dizzy little handmaiden, Chloe Westley, trilling away for Channel 4 – is that food and medicines would run out in a no-deal scenario, all in a matter of days after Brexit day.

At the end of week two we would be running out of petrol as well. Officials say that the government would have to charter aircraft, or use the RAF to ferry supplies to the furthest corners of the UK. "You would have to medevac medicine into Britain", the ST's source says.

And all this, we are led to understand, comes from papers prepared for the so-called Inter-Ministerial Group on Preparedness, which meets weekly when parliament is sitting. One official is cited as saying that the scenarios are so explosive they have only been shared with a handful of ministers and are "locked in a safe" - apart from being published routinely in

Then, according to "a senior official": "We are entirely dependent on Europe reciprocating our posture that we will do nothing to impede the flow of goods into the UK. If, for whatever reason, Europe decides to slow that supply down, then we're screwed".

In this scenario, supposedly, disrupting trade would lead to "reciprocal jeopardy", with the French also running short of medicines. However, officials are said to believe that would take six months for this to have an effect. Davis, meanwhile, is seeking to persuade civic leaders in key ports such as Calais and Antwerp to tell their central governments that goods must keep flowing.

However, this does not seem to represent any reality that is likely to transpire. It cannot be the case, for instance, that continental authorities will seek to block exports to the UK. Nor will the UK purposefully block the import of foods from the continent.

For sure, the UK will be required under WTO rules to impose checks on those goods to match those applied to other "third countries". But, for a period at least, the UK would most likely waive those requirements in order to keep food supplies flowing.

The real problem is actually very different. It comes when UK traders try to export goods to destinations in EU Member States, only to find that border controls slow the flows to a trickle in each port. It is this that will clog up the ports, preventing the ferries from unloading, disrupting return loading and thus stopping goods being sent to the UK.

As long as this is recognised as the problem, and action is taken in good time, the UK authorities could operate a system where the loading of ferries at UK ports is restricted, matching the rate at which consignments are cleared at their destination ports.

For the rest, ferries would be sent out empty to pick up goods from Europe, leaving the UK only with empty, EU registered trucks. This would keep the goods flowing to the UK. The same controls would have to apply to chemicals, in order to feed the refineries with their specialist needs – otherwise petrol will indeed begin to run out.

As to medicines, the claims are probably overblown. Products manufactured in the UK could be freely sold domestically and continental manufacturers are already taking steps to ensure continuity of supplies within the territories of EU Member States – which would continue to be exported to the UK. Our great problem is export sales and the economic loss that that entails.

In other words, the situation could be manageable. The government's immediate concern would be to retain public confidence sufficient to prevent panic buying, which alone could break the system.

This is possibly how a spokesman for the Brexit department is able to say that it is "completely false" that the doomsday scenario would unfold. He says that, "a significant amount of work and decision-making has gone into our no-deal plans, especially where it relates to ports, and we know that none of this would come to pass".

That said, this does not resolve issues such as aviation. UK airlines would still be grounded and airports in the UK would not be cleared for landings by aircraft registered by EU Member States. Shipping might also be affected and it is most certainly the case that UK registered commercial vehicles would not be permitted to drive on the roads of EU Member States.

What is also not being said is that the UK government would almost certainly have to invoke emergency powers, and there could still be local shortages of some commodities. Some form of rationing might have to be considered.

The other minor detail being missed out is that the economic cost could be massive – with knock-on effects right through the nation, reflected in unemployment, business closures and general disruption – as well as curtailment of some civil liberties. Thus, keeping supplies moving will come at a price that the government dare not disclose. Either way, with a "no deal" scenario, the UK will never be the same again. Mogg doesn't even know the half of it.

This, of course, is something anyone with the right knowledge and understanding would be able to work out for themselves. It is even possible – in theory – that journalists working for the zombie media could have a stab at it.

As always, though, they go for the cheap shot – a lightweight, sensationalist story that the journos can share out between themselves, spit out and move to the next lightweight, sensationalist story in a never-ending procession of mutual feeding opportunities. 

Coprophagia is indeed king. Real journalism long ago disappeared.

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