I donâ€™t know whether using the army to distribute essential supplies is or isnâ€™t part of the governmentâ€™s contingency planning for Brexit. The Sunday Times (paywall) claimed that it is, but the government denies it forcefully. Given that the ultimate fall-back position for just about any crisis is to use the armed forces, Iâ€™d be surprised if the question has not been discussed at all, and the current government doesnâ€™t exactly have a solid track record of honesty and transparency on anything associated with Brexit. On reflection, perhaps I shouldnâ€™t have included the words â€˜associated with Brexitâ€™ in the last sentence; any and every statement is subject to revision when someone lets slip the truth. â€œOh, you mean that army â€“ we thought you meant another one.â€�
It was the Brexiteers who originally demanded that the government publish more detail about its contingency plans for a â€˜no-dealâ€™, in order to show M. Barnier and the EU27 that the UK means business. It seems, though, that the civil servants tasked with preparing the plans misunderstood the request; the plans werenâ€™t supposed to reveal what might happen in case that scared people; they were only supposed to show how wonderfully the UK would cope and that there would be no problems at all, ever. In their naivety and driven by a complete lack of patriotism, those damned experts tried to sit down and look at what might really happen, instead of assuming the best. For most of us, itâ€™s a very strange type of contingency planning which starts from the assumption that all will be for the best, but itâ€™s the sort of â€˜planningâ€™ which has underpinned the whole Brexit vision from the outset.
There was one aspect of the Sunday Times report about the use of the military which particularly caught my attention, which was that â€œHelicopters and army trucks would be used to ferry supplies to vulnerable people outside the southeast who were struggling to obtain the medicines they needed.â€� Given the utter improbability that the London-based government would uniquely deny medicines to the vulnerable in the southeast, what is it about a potential shortage of medicines which affects everyone except those who live in the southeast? Because the implication here is that those in the southeast will somehow find it easy to obtain supplies whilst the rest of us wonâ€™t.
I for one would like to know what assumptions are underlying a contingency plan which can make such a distinction. Perhaps the answer is to be found in the cock-up theory of history rather than the conspiracy theory. The Sunday Times referred to existing contingency plans being â€˜dusted downâ€™ rather than new ones being written. Perhaps theyâ€™ve picked up the one marked blizzard to use as the template. Blizzard, Brexit â€“ both have two syllables, start with a â€˜bâ€™ and will cause chaos. Itâ€™s as good a place as any to start.