Churchill famously said that should Britain survive World War II, people would look back and say it had been its finest hour. Almost 80 years later, that same Churchillian spirit has been invoked by newspapers and politicians intent on framing Brexit as a battle rather than a tragedy. Headlines announcing the stockpiling of food and medicines, denouncing the hidden enemy within and the enemies of the people, serve to whip up fear and anger amongst the public. But the war of words being fought in the media only acts to mask the severity of the problems facing the UK. There are just 6 months until the UK officially leaves the EU, and the chance of that occurring with no deal prepared goes up by the day. Last year it seemed almost impossible to leave with no deal. But the foreign minister, the trade minister and the governor of the Bank of England have all warned of a no deal Brexit in the past weeks. Now is the time for us all to face up to what no deal really means.
Some dismiss the idea of stockpiling food and medicine as part of Project Fear, to try and scare the electorate into staying in the EU. But the suggestion wasn’t some fabricated threat thrown out in an obscure blog. Rather, Prime Minister Theresa May said it was the “responsible” thing to do. More far-fetched announcements might exist, like the army preparing to distribute supplies or Amazon warning the government of civil unrest, and in a worst-case scenario these things may happen, but I would rather focus on what will happen in the hours right after the UK leaves the European Union on the 29th of March 2019.
Britain is an island and thus relies on its ports as a lifeline. Ports like Dover, London, and Liverpool all handle vast amounts of imports, much of them originating from the EU. With no customs arrangement, the fast flowing and frictionless trade that sustains the UK will be no longer. Customs checks at Dover are expected to be so bad that the government has announced it will take 13 miles of the London to Dover highway and designate it only for trucks — essentially turning the road into a parking lot. The same holdups will occur in the French and Dutch ports. Fresh fruit will sit rotting in trucks before it can reach British supermarkets. People in urgent need of medicines produced on the continent risk not having access to them. Because of the government’s failure to act, stockpiling is a reality of the day.
When Brexiteers harken back to Britain’s finest hour, they must remember it was our darkest hour too.
But this is just the start of the UK’s potential problems. If no deal is made on airline licenses, flights may not be able to take off from British airports to the EU. If the UK does not secure an agreement on membership of the European Atomic Energy Community, fuel for nuclear power plants and radioactive isotopes for cancer treatments will not be able to enter Britain until an agreement is struck with the International Atomic Energy Agency. British police forces and intelligence agencies will lose access to pan-European databases and the European Arrest Warrant without a Brexit deal. The risks threaten all sectors of the country if no deal is reached. These issues can all be solved. The problem is that there are too many. While the popular ones, like European air travel, will likely be resolved first, the rest won’t. The bandwidth just doesn’t exist to address them all.
Faced with all this, it might appear that a Churchillian morale boost is needed. That when up against seemingly insurmountable odds, it might be good to remind the British people that they will prevail, no matter what. But this is not the Battle of Britain, we are not fighting against an aggressive existential threat. Brexit is a battle of our own making and we are the only ones who want to fight it. For all those who try to muster that heroic patriotism from the 40s, let’s not forget that during that decade the UK had to ration food because it could not produce enough. In 1948, London hosted possibly the cheapest Olympics ever, because there was no money in the treasury. When Brexiteers harken back to Britain’s finest hour, they must remember it was our darkest hour too.
Brexit will not be another Waterloo, where the government can proudly claim they vanquished another European foe. There will be no winners, only losers. All sides will suffer economically. A generation of young Brits will be robbed of the rights they have enjoyed their whole lives. In the face of this reality, the point of Brexit defies explanation.