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Councils Gear Up For Post-Brexit Emergency Plans

Posted: 06/09/2019

There are less than two months to go before the UK is due to leave the European Union (EU) as the Brexit extension will reach its conclusion on October 31st. However, despite Britain being granted a delay of six months, the government as of yet hasn’t established a strategy so far that has been accepted by both the UK and European parliaments.

As a result, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is growing more likely, which is why many councils across the country are putting together emergency response plans to deal with the fallout of leaving the EU without a contingency plan.

 

- Brexit fail

After failing to formulate an agreed Brexit plan by the allotted deadline, former Prime Minister Theresa May was given an extension for negotiations. This was granted on the condition that Britain “does not waste this time”.

European Council President, Donald Tusk, gave the UK the choice of cancelling Brexit or coming up with a solid withdrawal agreement.

He told Mrs May: “Let me finish with a message to our British friends: This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter as I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution.”

In response to this, Mrs May was reported by BBC News as saying: “We have a duty as politicians to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward.”

However, she was subsequently replaced as Prime Minister by Boris Johnson in July, winning 92,153 votes from 160,000 Conservative Party members.

After taking the lead position, Mr Johnson promised to deliver Brexit as well as unite the country, hoping to establish a deal by the deadline.

If he is not able to agree negotiations with the government and the European parliament on time, however, he pledged to leave the EU “come what may” by the end of October, alluding that a no-deal exit may be the only solution.

While this shows commitment and strength from the new Prime Minister, it has also sparked apprehension with businesses, industries and councils around the UK, concerned about the repercussions of leaving the EU without a formulated plan.

 

- Councils planning for emergency

Consequently, some local authorities have been working hard to put together an emergency preparedness plan for a no-deal Brexit.

For instance, Chief Executive of Shropshire Council, Clive Wright noted one of the biggest problems the local authority would face is with regards to imports and exports.

In an email leaked to the Shropshire Star, he wrote: “Through our emergency planners, we are planning for the eventuality of a no-deal, and we’re also working with businesses and other partners, including the police who are co-ordinating this across West Mercia.”

Mr Wright expressed his concern for European imports and exports, especially when it comes to food.

While he asserted there is a “whole load of work going on to try and mitigate that as far as possible”, local businesses and communities could be affected initially.

The local authority has appointed Claire Porter in the role of lead Brexit officer to help minimise disturbance to the public. Claire told the news provider a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to get businesses and communities ready for the change.

A Brexit working group meets once a week to address key issues and discuss the latest updates from the government. One of the ways the council is trying to reduce disruption is by talking to food premises around the country to give them advice on what they can do ahead of October 31st, so they have enough produce after Britain leaves the EU.

 

- What is a Brexit preparation plan?

As councils are concentrating on creating their Brexit preparation plan, they must include everything that may be affected. This includes housing, schools, employment, food and water, transport and traffic, business support, energy, imports and exports, strategic partnerships, and elections services.

Another local authority that has been busy creating a thorough emergency plan for a no-deal exit is Slough Borough Council, which has held weekly meetings regarding the risk categories, the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) reported.

“Given the current uncertainties about the arrangements for the UK’s departure from the EU and the workforce issues flagged up in Slough Borough Council Brexit impact assessment, this council resolves to provide support and assistance for the council’s directly-employed EU nationals, Slough’s looked-after children who are EU nationals and vulnerable Slough residents in need of one-to-one assistance when completing their applications for EU settled status,” the local authority announced recently.

It has started to make plans for maintaining local service delivery; supporting businesses affected by export or import control and any shortages of materials or products; and any traffic disruption caused by longer queues at ports.

The council intends to minimise disruption for residents by boosting its communication, such as through social media, drop-in sessions, and with gov.uk messages; setting up workshops to offer advice on preparing with a no-deal Brexit; looking at ways to use skills and funding to cope with a drop in capacity and workforce for local businesses; providing backfill officers in departments including trading standards and food and safety to ensure statutory obligations on imports and exports continue to be met; and developing transport and traffic contingencies, so congestion, air quality, health and a slowdown of business operations are carefully considered.

Chief Executive of Slough Borough Council Josie Wragg estimated the no-deal Brexit would exceed £1 million for the council, particularly in trying to control traffic problems in the area.

“I know from speaking with colleagues across local government how seriously we take our role and the ability in local government to be strong local leaders is more than evident,” she stated, adding that Slough has “been preparing [for Brexit] for a long time”.

 

- Keeping plans safeguarded

While some councils are transparent when it comes to their emergency preparation plans, others are more reserved about sharing theirs.

Doncaster Council, for instance, has refused to reveal what it would do with regards to food, fuel and medical supply shortages if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The Doncaster Free Press has reported the local authority does not believe it would be in the public’s interest to announce its emergency plans.

As a result, the People’s Vote campaign has called for the Information Commissioner to determine whether the council should provide these details as part of a Freedom of Information request.

The government had previously advised local authorities to reject these requests, saying: “[These individual emergency plans] make up part of the whole planning by the UK government to exit the EU and as such, we consider that disclosure would undermine the effective conduct of public affairs.”

Despite this, a spokesperson from People’s Vote believes it is important to know what the council intends to do, saying: “The picture is one of shortages, traffic delays and staff shortages for crucial public services.”

They went on to say people need to know what impact it will have on their jobs, shopping, and services, adding that it would be a “democratic outrage” to not enable the public to have the final say on how Brexit will affect them.

While Doncaster’s local authority hasn’t released details as of yet, nearby Kingston Upon Hull Council released a document that suggested a no-deal Brexit would likely lead to traffic jams, food and medicine shortages, and problems with staffing.

There is also the possibility that a no-deal Brexit could result in health and safety issues; a drop in workplace standards; and potential riots across the country. In this case, having a solid emergency response plan would mitigate some of t