Historians have argued over the United Kingdom’s demise for many years now, but with little agreement. The facts of course are all there, but interpreting them, well there’s the rub. With the benefit of hindsight you’d think it would be easy, but, at the time the arguments were shrouded in the dust kicked up by the participants, and now they are shrouded in the mists of time.
With a ‘No Deal’ Brexit taking place you’d have thought, that with all the Brexiteers telling us how much better things would be, that 1st April 2019 would have been a morning of mass hangovers with celebrations the night before going on into the small hours. This was not the case, however, very few people were celebrating because in the preceding few weeks reality had reared its ugly head, it had become apparent things were not as people had been led to believe, and many of those who had pooh poohed the doom sayers as spreading ‘Project Fear’ now realised just what they had got the UK into by listening to a group that had lied to them, and misled them into believing that things would be so much better if we weren’t being ruled from Brussels. They believed that the rest of the world would beat a path to our door, that we didn’t need any immigrants, and there was £350 million that would be spent on the National Health Service (NHS), umm ... or farmers, or, well, anything the speaker was asked about. And people were angry. The ones who wanted to leave were angry because they had been lied to and things were obviously falling apart, and the remainers because they were now suffering because of other people’s gullibility.
But that Monday morning, April Fools Day, there were few practical jokes, and few people were laughing, indeed, few people were doing anything at all. The government had already stopped all motor fuel sales pending the issue of ration books which would take some time to print and issue and the filling stations were guarded by army units, the police being held ready to control the anticipated rioting. Most manufacturing had come to a standstill because of a lack of components. Companies had, of course, been told to stockpile, but with most using ‘just in time’ supply lines the stock was effectively stored on the lorries in transit. And they weren’t transiting. So how could they stockpile if there was no warehousing available, and how did they finance it? All road hauliers had stopped going to European countries several days before so that their lorries wouldn’t be held up trying to cross the channel. Better to leave the lorries standing in the yard and let the drivers go, than pay them for perhaps days to sit in queues at Calais or any of the other channel ports. Unless the drivers had managed to obtain an international driving licence then their UK one was invalid anyway. So if people could get to work there was little for them to do, and children who lived close to their schools had to do something that they’d never experienced before. They had to walk.
Rather than the miles of queues at ferry ports that had been forecast due to the imposition of full customs checks there was in fact no problem, few hauliers were prepared to risk it, and there was little demand not while we were trading under World Trade Organisation rules. As soon as a lorry reached a continental port the tariff of up to 40% on the goods would need to be paid and of course the lorry itself would require a bond to be paid to ensure it returned to the UK. The 80% of Irish lorries that had crossed to UK, and then used ferries from south coast ports to get to the European mainland were now fighting for places on the ferries direct to Cherbourg, but hardly the worry for the British government that attempting to close the border between the Republic and the North was, something that was, as had been forecast, an impossibility.
At the airports there were other problems. Obviously all the people who serviced and refuelled the planes had lost their accreditation, this being part of the treaties with the European Union. This wasn’t too much of a problem because there were no aircraft flying. The connection to European air traffic control was discontinued so it was impossible for anything to move. Of course when people think of flying they think passengers, but the majority of flights bring in freight, food from far off places. Green beans and courgettes from Kenya we can live without, but a lot of those lorries that were no longer running brought in food from many other countries too.
The government had stockpiled a certain amount of food, but this was strictly the kind of thing that most people didn’t want, dry stuff like flour and other cooking ingredients for a nation that watched cooking on TV but didn’t actually do it themselves. Canned goods were still available from these stocks, but the supply wouldn’t last long.
By the end of the week the Department of Work and Pensions was overwhelmed; queues at Job Centres were out of the door and along the street. People were told that they should look for work, and many were, but with no one hiring there was little hope. One looming problem was that all the people who sought benefits were going to bankrupt the country in fairly short order because there was very little tax to be collected. It didn’t take long for the banking system to start to melt down as people were no longer able to pay mortgages and credit cards. And there were fights, particularly between those who had wanted to remain in the European Union, and those who felt that a blue passport and ‘sovereignty’ were more important than anything else, and that other countries would flock to trade with us. Which they clearly hadn’t done. Those who believed that we could do without ‘foreigners’ either couldn’t, or wouldn’t do the jobs that they had done. They couldn’t suddenly become doctors and nurses and going into the fields at dawn to pick vegetables was beneath them.