On 15 October 1987, a woman rang the BBC to tell them she feared a hurricane was on the way. Weatherman Michael Fish laughed and then looked straight into the camera and told us all not to worry. The rest, as they say, is History.
First published in October 2017. | Updated in August 2018.
I was reminded of this after watching a veritable parade of government ministers trying to persuade us that a No Deal Brexit would be nothing more than a spot of bracing fresh air, and not the kind of unprecedented storm that will do a lot more than just ‘blow our bloody doors off.’
It seems to be a new game that we can all play, attaching random words to the front of Brexit as if that makes all the problems simply disappear. We have No Deal Brexit on the Tory side this week which Labour swiftly countered with their Jobs First Brexit. If we are playing this game, I am having a Gin First Brexit and will see you all on the other side. The wordplay and the eerily calm smiling, telling us all not to worry is what your parents do when they have gambled away the house and don’t want you to know. Our politicians are trying to make a children’s game out of an act of economic self-harm.
One of the aspects of No Deal Brexit that appears to have got everyone a little hot under the collar this week is the idea that flights will be grounded. For some reason, people find this hard to accept as if Kent being turned into a lorry park, and medical isotopes being unable to cross our border thereby rendering radiotherapy treatments and nuclear medicines unavailable, would all be perfectly fine, but aeroplanes being grounded is the end of civilisation as we know it.
Chris Grayling appeared on the Andrew Marr Show this week and was quick to smooth the way for a No Deal Brexit. The little matter of importing 40 percent of our food? Don’t you worry about it. On cue, Chris wheels out his lovely calming smile and tells us that farmers will simply grow more. I’m amazed farmers haven’t previously thought of this strategy to make more money for themselves. Just grow more food. Dig for Victory.
Of course, our climate dictates a lot of what we can grow, so I for one am very much looking forward to Nigella’s new show ‘1001 ways to cook a Turnip’ and Mary Berry’s ‘How to make a Victoria Sandwich out of Cabbages.’
But if you are one of those people who very unpatriotically won’t eat up your Turnip Porridge and keep quiet, you may have a vested interest on learning how you might actually leave the country to pursue some tastier options.
Andrew Marr was quick to ask the question ‘So there will be flights?’ Chris Grayling smiled beatifically into the camera and chuckled, ‘Don’t you worry...’
Apparently, if we speak to British Airways or Easyjet, they will tell us there will be flights. Easyjet, of course, has opened up a new headquarters in Vienna, which gives us some clue where they see this going. Chris is no longer counting on Michael O’Leary since his Brexit warnings lost credibility when he mislaid his pilot holiday schedule down the back of the sofa.
If you remember Michael O’Leary pointed out in August 2017 that if no deal was done it was inevitable that there would be no flights and as all flight plans needed to be lodged six months in advance, their deadline was actually September 2018, and not the actual Brexit date of March 2019. Nevertheless, Chris is being his usual jolly self and assuring us we will be able to book our holidays as usual. But based on what? Was Chris Grayling telling the truth about flights? Is this all nothing but scaremongering?
You can say there will be flights as many times as you like but nobody can say how this will actually happen. The assumption a lot of people (sadly including our politicians) seem to be making, is that if we No Deal, we somehow magically carry on exactly as we are, until we all sort ourselves out. This is the equivalent of Britain cancelling their gym membership but still turning up every day in our union jack swimming trunks with our Brexit towel tucked under our arm to see if we can still use the pool. The answer will be no.
Nothing stays the same, and the reason for this is not because the EU wants to punish us in some Game of Thrones adventure, but because it is ruled by contracts and treaties. We behave as if these contracts and treaties are a complete surprise to us, and I suppose they might be, given the state of some of our Brexit ministers. However, the fact remains that we have helped to draw up every single piece of legislation and happily signed them for the last 40 years. The aviation industry is ruled by such regulations, and unless we have come to an agreement whereby we retain our place in these agencies, or we put in place new agreements, then those planes are simply not leaving the ground.
Every aspect of our aviation industry is controlled by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and it was interesting that Chris Grayling told Marr he believed we would carry on being part of the EASA even after Brexit, and we would need to, because the alternative would be at least a decade to replicate all the safety certifications currently covered by the EASA. If we have a No Deal Brexit, we are out of EASA in March 2019 and it is not only quite possible, but absolutely likely that for a period of time there simply are no flights. Michael O’Leary was quick to point out that the European Airlines themselves are lobbying and getting ready to compete for routes and although our Government wants us to believe it is inconceivable that this would happen; it absolutely could happen.
Outside of the safety certification under EASA we are party to an agreement known as ECAA or European Common Aviation Area which governs our flight access to 44 countries. This entitles us to the 9 Freedoms of the Air which cover all aspects of flying and landing from home country to foreign countries or crucially flying from a foreign country to another foreign country or internally within a foreign country. It is the latter that airlines such as Easyjet and other low-cost airlines base their business model on, and it is that which would lead to problems for them.
If we No Deal, then we may have to try and fall back on the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation. This would place an enormous burden on the Civil Aviation Authority leading to serious budget and staffing issues and is completely unsuitable to cope with the level of regulation we would require. It would need vast amounts of UK legislation thereby tying up Parliamentary time desperately needed to solve many other critical issues. There is no guarantee that the aviation regulators would accept this state of affairs, but even if we were able to sort all of that out it would still not entitle us to all 9 Freedoms. Crucially one of the freedoms we would lose is the freedom to fly from one EU country to another, making it impossible for Easyjet, in particular, to continue as they are, and explaining exactly why they took the time to set up a headquarters in Vienna.
The other agreement covered under EASA is the Open Skies Agreement which is an EU agreement with the USA to have an open aviation area thus enabling a reciprocity of flight conditions between us, or not us in the case of a No Deal. The U.S. aviation trade body have themselves tried to point out exactly what Michael O’Leary has said about the risks of leaving this all to the last minute, and also pointing out it is not just passengers, but also air cargo which will be affected. It is fair to say that when the U.S. Airline Industry and the UK Airline Industry start to issue warnings, we should stop smiling and actually start taking notice.
This week the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) also put out a statement saying, “The entire UK aviation sector which employs nearly a million people and carries more than 250 million passengers per annum would be devastated by a Brexit ‘no deal.’ Unlike most other sectors there are no World Trade Organisation or any other rules to fall back on for aviation if there is no deal. UK airlines could find they have to stop flying – it’s that serious.”
Other than pilots standing outside airports flapping their arms up and down and shouting, “This is the nearest you guys are getting to a flight folks.” I’m not sure what else has to be said before the Government starts taking it seriously.
On Day 1 of No Deal Brexit, we would be outside of the EASA and therefore outside of the ECAA and the Open Skies Agreement. We would be outside of the 9 Freedoms, outside of all safety certification and with nothing in place to fall back on.
You can see why the aviation industry is starting to worry that people like Chris Grayling are not actually getting it when he smiles down the camera and assures us our two weeks of ‘having it large in Majorca’ will still be available in Summer 2019. Indeed Chris was adamant that Spanish hoteliers would simply not allow this to happen. I hope that is not the same way that German car manufacturers would simply not allow us to have a bad Brexit deal. Chris conveniently forgets that the Spanish hoteliers have a further 26 countries to sell rooms to, and who knows maybe they are tired of hosting British vomit off their beautiful streets and listening to people calling them ‘Manuel’ all day long. Either way, I’m not sure that Spanish hoteliers will be riding to our rescue anytime soon.
The other part of this is timing. As O’Leary pointed out, airlines lodge flight plans six months in advance and need to secure their routes and make sure they have allocated their aircraft correctly. If this drags on, even if there is a last minute deal, we might find our holiday booking in September 2018 is slim pickings, and the number of flights and indeed the price of flights is quite different from what we have become used to under our EU membership.
The fact is that no matter how many times John Redwood or Chris Grayling tell us that a No Deal Brexit will be fine and we should all ‘stop talking down the country’, as if a bit of tweeting about the perils of Brexit will suddenly cause the EU to remember we are no longer members of EASA on Brexit Day. It’s like an episode of Scooby Doo where Grayling and Redwood would have got away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky kids tweeting out their misery on a daily basis.
If we end up with a No Deal Brexit, it will not be fine at all. In the same way that when you give notice to your employer, you will find the day after you leave that you can no longer access any of the systems, and your security pass doesn’t work.
Our citizens will lose their rights in the EU overnight. We will lose our right to travel to the EU because we will need new visa arrangements and health insurance. Every lorry will have to be checked at the border causing miles of tailbacks. Tariffs will be imposed on our goods and non-tariff barriers will come into play. Our shopping basket will go up by an average of 22 percent according to the Head of Sainsbury’s, and food could be so delayed at the border that it is left to rot.
Country of origin checks will lead to half of Kent being covered in lorries at any given time. JIT (Just In Time) systems will break down causing manufacturers enormous problems. Car manufacturers have parts arriving within 120 minutes of fitting🔒 in some cases. There is simply no room for delay and holding a production line because your parts are stuck in a lorry on the M2 is not going to help our manufacturers want to stay in the UK.
The complications caused by a No Deal Brexit just to the aviation industry would do untold damage, and that is just one agency that we would be locked out of if we ended up with No Deal. As part of the EU, we are members of dozens of agencies that regulate everything from banking to nuclear issues. There is not one aspect of life untouched by an EU regulation, and outside of it, we cannot blithely carry on importing, exporting or travelling as if nothing has happened. There are consequences, and although not painless for the EU, they are far worse for us. Outside of those agencies that same damage will be replicated throughout the UK on financial services, pharmaceuticals, food, farming, immigration, retailing, manufacturing, etc.
The Government may want to pretend that a No Deal Brexit will be perfectly fine and the Leavers may want to pretend that Turnip Porridge is delicious, but the fact is that a No Deal Brexit is impossible and our economy would simply be catastrophically damaged by it. So the next time someone on the BBC smiles at you and tells you not to worry, you can be sure that no matter what they say, a hurricane is, in fact, heading your way.🔷
Julie Owen Moylan, Writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Welsh feminist.
🗳️ John Redwood