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Europe: Theresa May 'twixt the EU and Union Jack flags
Image: Reuters/F. Lenoir

Brexit Diaries: UK, EU square off anew

Barbara Wesel
January 8, 2019

It's a new year, and nothing has changed. Read all about Benedict Cumberbatch's Uncivil War, a taxpayer-funded traffic jam, a shady shipping deal, and more dire economic news in this week's Brexit Diaries.


The feasts have been eaten, the punch has been drunk, and the family quarrels have subsided for now. At many festive tables in Britain, one issue would have been especially taboo: The topic of Brexit likelier leads to divorce and disinheritance in some families than it does to peace and goodwill.

What was Theresa May thinking when she pulled Parliament's Brexit vote in December and postponed it till January 15? The prime minister had likely hoped that the holidays would provide time for quiet reflection and for lawmakers to feel remorse for blocking her Brexit deal. There is also, of course, the additional pressure on the clock. We've now got 80 days till B-Day.

The Brexiteer right has played a decadeslong game in its efforts to leave the European Union, however. Why would that change now?

Brexit: The Uncivil WaR
Would you trust that face? Cumberbatch plays Brexit boss Dominic Cummings on TVImage: picture-alliance/empics/I. Infantes

Cumberbatch's Uncivil War

The problem with television is that it seems so much more fun than real life. Or was the Vote Leave campaign really having such a great time as portrayed in the Channel 4 film Brexit: The Uncivil War? In any case, Dominic Cummings, the director of and driving force behind Vote Leave, must have been tickled pink to have been portrayed by Britain's brightest actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. And the film was flattering, depicting Cummings as somewhat unstable but a political genius.

Cummings was the man who brought about the victory through innovative data mining and clever propaganda. We remember Cambridge Analytica and the pledge plastered on city buses that Brexit would mean an additional 350 million pounds (€390 million/$445 million) per week for the National Health Service. It was a lie, but it worked. He also gave Vote Leave its slogan, "Take Back Control," which ended up being another of the campaign's most effective and emptiest pledges.

In the film, we also see Vote Leave funder Arron Banks swilling beer with his sidekick, Nigel Farage, who led the UK Independence Party at the time. They appeared like a pair of overgrown schoolboys plotting a nasty trick. The film was quite entertaining but something of a distraction from the real Brexit mess, which has degraded British politics and public life.

Kent Dover Brexit-Test
The government declared its traffic jam a successImage: Reuters/T. Melville

The preparedness procession

The government had asked for 150 trucks, but only 89 turned up, including a bin lorry from the Thanet distract, which appeared to have joined in just for fun. And, when the sun rose over the disused Manston Airport in eastern Kent county on Monday morning, the caravan began wending its way to Dover. The idea behind the exercise was to war-game a hard Brexit, in which newly established border controls on the other side of the channel would slow down traffic headed for UK ferries. The whole exercise cost about 50,000 pounds — mere peanuts in the grand scheme of Brexit.

With a little more than half of the requested vehicles rolling and half of the county still on holiday, the lorries passed relatively unimpeded thought the Kentish countryside. Perhaps the drill was inadequate to simulate the real situation at the Dover ferry port, through which about 10,000 trucks pass on the average workday. This was truly an exercise in high-end fraud. The question remains whether the bin lorry turned up specifically to mock Brexit or the driver was just looking for a day out.

About those ferries ...

Chris Grayling may be the silly bird in a government quite devoid of intellectual or political giants. Even by the standards of the current Cabinet, the transport minister has had some horrible PR. Take Grayling's latest mishap: He was tasked with hiring extra ferries to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. They were supposed to operate from different British harbors in order to alleviate the burden on Dover. One of the contracts, worth 13.8 million pounds, went to a company called Seaborne Freight. Grayling called it a startup; observers call it a swizz.

At the moment, the firm has no ships and no experience in the maritime business. As Paul Messenger, a Conservative on the Kent County Council, noted, it has not moved a single lorry in its history. Seaborne Freight's terms and conditions seem to be copy-pasted from a pizza delivery service.

Andrew Adonis, a member of the House of Lords for the Labour Party, said his sources in the civil service report that large amounts of the 4 billion pounds earmarked by the government for preparations for a no-deal Brexit are going toward "dodgy, panicky and frankly disgraceful" expenditures. It seems to be time to grab the money and run in Britain.

Cheers! Scotch and Brexit

Hitting the brakes

Aston Martin has now unveiled its contingency plans for Brexit. The carmaker has installed a new supply chain chief and is getting ready to fly in parts from the European Union. Company officials have never been "further apart from understanding where we're going to end up," CEO Andy Palmer said.

Overall, car sales in Britain dropped by almost 7 percent in 2018. Uncertainties about Brexit and the future of diesel are cited as reasons. Car manufacturing is one the few major industries still standing in the UK, and it employs 850,000 people. Lobbyists call the current situation an existential threat and fear that a no-deal Brexit could endanger the future of the car industry.

Vauxhall Autos
Vauxhall is cutting back operations as sales decline nationwideImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Vauxhall

May's 'self-harm' strategy

"Sado-unicornism" is the term that Ian Dunt from Politics.co.uk has coined to define the philosophy of a prime minister who is still chasing impossible solutions for Brexit and confusing "self-harm for strategy." May intends to make the question of how to handle the border between Northern Ireland, in the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, disappear before the upcoming vote in Parliament by demanding a deadline from the European Union for an end to negotiations. This would be pure magic.

Brexit dominates EU summit

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