As far as life events go, the loss of a small, sugary chocolate bar is not likely to keep most people awake — but the loss of the popular Mars bar from British supermarket shelves has illustrated the massive change millions of consumers could soon be hit with.
The chocolate bars would vanish from Britain within a fortnight of the country leaving the European Union if there was no transition deal in place. Untangling the world’s fifth largest economy from 27 other countries after three decades is going to require some hard decisions, quick thinking and creative solutions.
Which brings us to the current mess the United Kingdom is in.
Using Mars as an example, if no deal is reached by March 29 next year then the UK will crash out of the EU and have to rely on World Trade Organisation rules to trade with its former European partners.
The problem with that is there would no longer be frictionless trade that allowed goods to pass through borders without customs and regulatory checks — and for Mars bars, two imported ingredients that couldn’t be stockpiled would go off in days.
Expected gridlock at the port of Dover would almost shut down one of the UK’s vital food import routes, meaning Mars bars — and many other products — would be gone, some within a few days.
Officials from the UK Department for Environment and Rural Affairs officials are forecasting that disruption to food imports and exports could last for more than six months, leading to shortages on supermarket shelves and putting massive financial pressure on millions of businesses that depend on exports to the EU, Buzzfeed News reported.
So a no deal could affect the lives of millions of people. The government has been steadily ramping up no deal preparations and has been regularly publishing notices that let the community know what is possible and what is being done about it.
One of the most dramatic is a proposal to turn the M26 motorway in the county of Kent to a parking lot for hundreds of lorries to avoid traffic chaos on nearby roads. The major delays would be caused because lorries simply couldn’t pass through the Eurotunnel with ease.
Prime Minister Theresa May maintains her controversial deal is the only solution that would avoid a catastrophic no deal — which seemed unthinkable just months ago.
As unlikely as it is to win MPs’ support in the House of Commons, Mrs May reportedly hopes the prospect of a no deal will eventually persuade MPs from her own divided party and others to back the deal.
A political source told News Corp’s The Times this week of an astonishing view that was emerging at the higher levels of the UK Government.
“No 10’s plan is to encourage a crash in financial markets after losing a first vote,” a source once said, which in theory would spook wavering MPs back from the no deal brink.
A cabinet source conceded to the paper, “that would be a kamikaze approach”.
It’s a high-risk gamble, and with Brexit Day fast approaching there is little time to try and pursue a new deal.
MAY: WE ARE DOING THIS MY WAY
By now, most followers of British politics will know Mrs May is in a world of trouble. Her draft plan is not liked by leavers or Remainers, she has had a wave of resignations from her Cabinet and there is a strong chance she may face a leadership confidence vote.
She claims her deal honours the 2016 referendum where the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU and would allow the country to take back control of their money, laws and borders.
“When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear. This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our Union — or leave with no deal or no Brexit at all,” the Prime Minister said.
If only it were that simple.
Firstly, will Britain leave the EU next year? Yes — at least officially.
But under the draft agreement there will then be a transition period lasting until December 31, 2020 in which time Britain would STILL be subject to all EU law, trade policy, existing EU rules on justice, home and foreign affairs and defence.
That period could be jointly agreed to be extended if 21 months isn’t long enough to reach a trade deal, which it most likely isn’t.
Essentially, this would also involve a temporary single custom territory effectively keeping the whole of the UK in the EU customs union — until both the EU and UK agree that it is no longer necessary.
The proposals have caused concern among Brexiteers, who fear the UK would continue to follow EU rules for an indefinite time without having any say over them. So basically they do leave, but until a solution is found for the border issue, they stay in a new temporary customs union and would need the EU’s permission to agree to leave.
Brexit supporters are worried about this because they believe Britain would be locked potentially for years in a customs union which would cruel their chances of forging new trade deals with countries like Australia.
Mrs May maintains there was no other offer on the table, and it is backstop only, that will only kick in if a solution to avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland isn’t found. There are fears a hard border could see a return to violence that ended with the 1998 peace agreement.
The all UK backstop, as it is known, treats Northern Ireland the same as the rest of UK but some provisions only apply to the province — and it’s this fact that caused the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab to quit.
The proposal has the UK applying EU law on industrial, agricultural and environmental goods there as well as a customs code for the shipment of goods – it says these are “strictly necessary” to avoid a hard border.
To complicate matters the Prime Minister’s partners in government, the DUP, have hit out and accused her of breaking her promise to them that Northern Ireland would never be treated any differently from the rest of the UK.
A group of Brexiteer cabinet ministers have been pushing for changes to the agreement, to get rid of the Irish “backstop” plan.
Downing Street said the cabinet had discussed possible alternative arrangements to keep the border open, that could involve “technological solutions”.
The only problem is those solutions have not yet been invented yet.
As for money, Britain has agreed to pay £39 billion as a divorce settlement to the EU but more money could change hands if the transition period goes beyond 2020, while one of the most controversial aspects — immigration — would stop EU migrants “jumping the queue” ahead of other nations and would be skills based.
Both Brits in the EU and EU residents in the UK would have their rights protected but it does not clear up questions over “onward movement” for Britons who might want to move to another EU country from the one they are living in after Brexit.
It also doesn’t cover what happens to people who want to work in different countries, which is one of the main concerns for British nationals living in the EU.
Whether or not this draft plan sees the light of day all depends on a huge variety of variables, including Mrs May keeping her job. But if one thing is certain, it’s that Brits will have to brace themselves for a very intense and uncertain few months.
Originally published as Sweet treat this country could lose