LONDON – No need to panic. Or maybe there is — just a little.
Britain offered a snapshot of a nation trying to come to grips with a possible “no-deal” exit from the European Union, meaning it would be cut loose without any prearranged pacts on trade, travel and security with its longtime partners.
British officials have long suggested this was unlikely, because it would introduce a mountain of costly red tape, tariffs and friction at the borders. But on Thursday the government released its first “technical notices” on how British citizens and businesses might be wise to prepare now for the country’s possible crash out of the E.U. next year with no divorce settlement in place.
For weeks, a string of doomsday scenarios in the British media have imagined what could happen if Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiators fail to strike an agreement with Brussels. There’s been speculation — floated by think tanks, business lobbies and hospital administrators — that a “no-deal Brexit” could create total havoc.
Imagine, they say, dayslong traffic jams at ferry ports and the Euro-tunnel; empty shelves at grocery markets; shortages of fuel and medicines; chaos at airport immigration booths, and police locked out of cross-border terrorism databases. There have also been stories about a “sandwich famine” and the British Army being deployed to suppress civil unrest.
Last month, the British Sandwich Association warned that a no-deal Brexit could limit the range of luncheon items on offer if it became harder to import out-of-season ingredients with a short shelf-life, such as lettuce and tomatoes.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab held a news conference to mark the government release of 148 pages in 25 advisories that seek to advise British businesses and citizens on a possible no-deal world.
“Let me assure you that, contrary to one of the wilder claims, you will still be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit, and there are no plans to deploy the Army to maintain food supplies,” Raab said.
But the advisories still conjured up a lot of hassle, added cost and dysfunction.
In the past, May and her pro-Brexit cabinet assured Britain that a deal was just around the corner. Now government ministers say it’s about 50-50.
In its first papers, May’s government warned that the cost of credit card payments between Britain and Europe will likely increase, as will the cost of internet purchases — totaling in the billions — from Europe.
Britons working and living in Europe could also lose access to British banking and pension services. Some 250,000 British retirees live in Europe.
There will likely be customs checks and delays for British companies exporting to Europe, the government advised, as “the free circulation of goods between the U.K. and E.U. would cease.”
Raab said that pharmaceutical companies already warehouse 200 medicines in case of shortages, with more on the way. He also said the government was planning to hire 9,000 more civil servants to handle Brexit, in addition to 7,000 bureaucrats already tending to the divorce.
The opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said that May’s government was “now moving into panic mode.”
David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker, posted a tweet saying, “This is just embarrassing coming from a minister. His department’s own impact reports show Brexit will wreck our economy & disproportionately hurt the poorest, while hospitals are deprived of doctors & nurses. But at least we’ll still have BLTs. Shameless.”