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By Jason Michael
IT IS AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY to spell out the actual consequences of a no-deal Brexit in the hope of encouraging people to prepare for the worst. No matter how hard we try to warn people of the dire seriousness of what is now only just around the corner, the great majority of people will simply ignore the warnings until it is too late. Actually, this is something the British government has factored into its Operation Yellowhammer contingency plan. Due to ‘Brexit fatigue’ and the exhausting length of the entire Brexit process most people have simply tuned out, meaning that when we hit the deadline and our departure from the European Union is felt on the ground on ‘Day 1’ most people will be dangerously unprepared for the effects of Britain’s total economic isolation from the continent. It is absolutely essential, then, that we find new ways of getting this message across.
What might be a good idea is to strategically ‘game’ what we might expect to see in the event of a hard no-deal Brexit. Things like this have happened before and in contexts not far removed from that of the United Kingdom in 2019. Given that effects can be predicted from causes, what we can do here is look at the specific consequences of a hard Brexit from the moment they come into play and trace their effects over the first few days and weeks. Our decision to leave the European Union, however, is a vastly complex situation with thousands of variables and moving parts. Everything that happens will depend on multiple factors and contingencies; meaning there is no way to predict with absolute certainty what effects will manifest. Ultimately, this is a guessing game – but one, in light of similar events elsewhere, based on educated guesses. While this may read like an excuse, we must also remember that this is the same thought experiment on which Yellowhammer is based. In consideration of the vast complexity of Brexit, here we will limit our game to food shortages and what effects we might expect to see from a compromised food supply.
Jonathan Mills (@Muinchille) September 07, 2019
At midnight on Thursday 31 October 2019 our open borders with the European Union will close, the free movement of people will end, and every one of the thousands of agreements and common understandings on trade, security, policing, health and safety, and transport will be irrevocably terminated. On and after 31 October food will not arrive into UK ports from any EU member state until, as a foreign state, the UK has negotiated a new set of trade agreements with Europe – a process which cannot begin until after the UK has left the EU and which may take weeks or months to finalise. At present only about half of the food produced on mainland Britain is consumed in the United Kingdom. The majority of the rest of what we eat – about 30 per cent – comes in from the EU. But we will have more food than this suggests, as we are also a food exporter.
Our best way of assessing the true scale of food shortages from ‘Day 1’ of Brexit is to look at our food production to supply ratio, a chart that makes for some grim reading given the circumstances. From 1988 until today our production to supply ration has been in steady decline, bringing us from close to 90 per cent in 1990 to below 60 per cent today. In numbers, this means that on 31 October the UK can only guarantee food for – at top – 80 per cent of its population (counting trade from non-EU trade partners which may be compromised as this trade is with the UK as an EU member state). This presents us with a lower and a higher possibility of food supply from 60 to 80 per cent. In terms of population, then, this puts between 13.2 and 26.4 million people at risk of hunger.
This will begin at the start of winter when food consumption, due to colder weather and Christmas, is higher. The British government’s Yellowhammer document admits that the state will not be able to stockpile enough food in time to meet this demand, meaning that rationing will have to be reintroduced. Yet, Brexit food shortages will only compound a pre-existing situation of widespread food poverty caused by a decade of savage government austerity. The charity Oxfam estimates that half a million people in the UK are now wholly reliant on emergency food parcels, and according to the World Bank 2 million are undernourished, with over a third of the population – that’s almost 22 million people – ‘just one heating bill or a broken washing machine away from hardship.’ As the government acknowledges in Yellowhammer, these are the people who will be affected most by food shortages and rising costs. Without food, already hungry and undernourished people will die – leading sensible analysis to conclude: Food shortages are not in themselves an effect, they will be the cause of an actual famine in modern day Britain.
Food shortages... medicine shortages... petrol shortages... massive travel disruption... civil unrest... huge price… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Barnaby Edwards (@BarnabyEdwards) September 12, 2019
So, let’s think of what might happen – of what is most likely to happen. Well, contrary to popular belief, this will not begin on ‘Day 1.’ Yellowhammer concedes the point that “there is a risk panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption.” It will. It always does. And this will not happen on or after 31 October. It will begin in the days or weeks before that deadline. When it dawns on enough people that a hard Brexit is really happening, there will be a rush on supermarkets. In fact, there are indications this is already happening in some places. Basic daily essentials will disappear from the shelves, causing a wider sense of panic. As our supply chain linking us to the EU is just-in-time – meaning products arrive into the UK just in time to be bought and consumed, the shortages will be devastating for those who have not stockpiled. Somewhere between a fortnight and a week before 31 October – that’s five weeks from now – shelves will be bare.
This brings us to the true apocalypse scenario. How will people – our neighbours and friends – behave when they have no food and when no one knows when food stocks will be replenished? The answer is simple: They will panic. People do extraordinary things when they are faced with the prospect of hunger. On 3 March 2018, during the extreme weather conditions of the ‘Beast from the East,’ the residents of Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin, panicked when they were left just two days without an open shop or supermarket due to the snow. Early in the day people gathered to force open the shutters of a Lidl store, and, when they succeeded, the entire neighbourhood descended to loot and ransack the place. In the evening, when the place was empty, criminals arrived with a mechanised digger to take out the walls and steal the safe. By night-time the whole building was in flames.
Yes Scotland Cybernat (@NowtYet) September 12, 2019
It is not at all unlikely – in fact, it is certain – that this is the sort of thing we will see in towns and cities over the whole of the UK almost as soon as people are unable to feed themselves and their families. This is what the Yellowhammer document means when it predicts “a rise in public disorder.” People and families with stockpiles will be targeted too, leading to a rapid and sharp rise in raids, house breaking, and violent crime – a horrible situation that will “absorb significant amounts of police resources.” Police in the United Kingdom are simply not equipped to deal with a panicked, rampaging public – certainly not on this scale. What we will see are police forces quickly overwhelmed and the exploitation of this crisis by organised criminals; one reason why the government has already consulted with the military for support.
The people most vulnerable to this collapse will be the poorest, the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled. Without food and essential medicines, in the worst-case scenario, there will be an unavoidable death toll. With the winter bugs and flu, hospitals will be unable to cope. Violent crime will pack out Emergency Departments and wards will be filled to capacity with the old and the sick. When we compound this situation with the fact of medicine shortages and a shortage of basic medical supplies, we have a nightmare scenario developing fast.
Nothing of this is my imagination running wild. This is exactly what the government was considering when it put together Operation Yellowhammer. This is what happens when states lose their food supply. We can hope to God that this doesn’t happen, but right now this is a real possibility. In fact, it is the most likely outcome of Brexit unless a deal can be made with the EU – but all we have is evidence the government has been telling lies and running down the clock. Short of a miracle, we are going to experience a no-deal Brexit and food shortages. We will also suffer massive price increases for electricity and gas. Businesses will struggle to stay open, and the economy will move closer to collapse. This is real, this is what will happen in the event of a no-deal scenario, and this is what is happening right now. It is crucially important that we realise this is happening and help others to realise it. There are only a few short weeks left before things start to get out of control. We have to be prepared.
Beast from the East: Looting Lidl