Richard North, 12/08/2019  

It is hardly worth getting excited over the Telegraph report which has Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of Port Boulogne Calais, dismissing warnings of Brexit chaos on the Dover-Calais route.

His view is that the warnings are "irresponsible scare-mongering by political agitators". "The British authorities have been doing a great deal to prepare", he says. "People say they are asleep but I can assure you that they are highly professional and they are ready".

The thing is, we've long discounted any prospect of significant disruption on the Channel route in the immediate aftermath of Brexit – for a variety of reasons which we've rehearsed several times.

I would also concede that it suits some people to put their own spin on what might happen, and that is certainly the view of Puissesseau. "There are certain individuals in the UK", he says, "who are whipping up this catastrophism for their own reasons", adding that: "This has provoked a lot of concern but basically 'c'est la bullsh**'".

Puissesseau is convinced "Nothing is going to happen the day after Brexit". He concedes that "Britain will be a third country", but then asserts that, "there is no reason why this should lead to any problems. If both sides do their homework traffic will be completely fluid".

However, this is a man who got it spectacularly wrong last January when Brexit was expected in March and he was saying that the Calais authorities were preparing for a no-deal Brexit and "we will be ready".

At least he has the decency to concede that he was wrong, albeit with a slight re-writing of history. But he is at last acknowledging that a no-deal Brexit in March would have been "a hair-raising experience".

One should recall that, in January, Puissesseau was saying that, "No more trucks will be stopped crossing the Channel than at present", adding that the UK government's efforts to move trade away from Calais to other ports were "shocking" and "disrespectful".

Now, his version of events is that a March no-deal "would have been a huge problem because nobody believed it was going to happen and they were all dragging their feet". And the difference this time is that "we have seven more months and this time they are getting ready".

Indeed they [the British] are getting ready, as we have recorded through the period. And after Puissesseau abandoned the fantasy of setting up an off-site inspection facility, jointly with the Channel Tunnel, and took heed of the Commission's view of his legal obligations, the Port of Calais got its act together and made the necessary arrangements.

As it stands, there are too many vested interests wanting to see smooth Channel crossings post-Brexit for anything else to happen. For a while, at least, we can be pretty well assured that every effort will be made, both in the UK and on the Continent, to ensure trouble-free passages for commercial traffic.

Those that say otherwise, Puissesseau asserts, telling "alarmist stories of thirteen-mile lorry jams across Kent", are basing their narratives "on twisted assumptions". Basically, these people "do not know what they are talking about" or in some cases are guilty of deliberate distortions because they have "an axe to grind".

That, of course, is the other side of the coin. There are indeed an awful lot of people who want to see Brexit fail and will therefore pursue any line which seems likely to further their cause. And then there is the natural tendency of the media to seek "bad news" stories in preference to sensible analysis, whence they will always take a pessimistic view of the future.

In the normal course of events, we will tend to see the anti-Brexit media take that pessimistic view, hence the Independent making a big deal of the recent fishing story, headlining "No-deal Brexit could trigger deadly clashes between fishermen, experts warn".

Typically, this is a prestige-reliant report as the newspaper goes to Professor Richard Barnes of the University of Hull as their "house" expert. He obligingly tells them there would be "a real risk" of serious violence breaking out between British and EU fishermen, many of whom depend on access to UK fishing grounds for their economic survival.

Without a shred of self-awareness, Barnes tells us that: "Together with inflammatory newspaper headlines, broken political promises and broken livelihoods, we will have all the ingredients for violent confrontations at sea", all supposedly part of the reality of a no-deal Brexit.

"Given that the UK lacks the practical capacity to fully enforce fishing law in all its waters, this is a significant risk", he says, embellishing his view with the assertion that: "History shows us that fishing disputes can quickly escalate. Any close quarters situation between fishing boats, let alone deliberate ramming or physical violence, can result in injury or even loss of life".

There is any amount of room for this type of story: all you need is a sufficiently credible "expert" to say the necessary words and you have yourself an exclusive, if fact-free report, made all the more lurid in this case when you can refer to Royal Navy vessels armed with 20mm cannon and machine guns and speculate on whether they would be deployed against unarmed fishing vessels.

Interestingly, though, the Independent can't even get the detail right as the latest generation of Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels, the Forth (pictured) and her sisters - Trent, Medway, Tamar and Spey - are "a big leap forward from Tyne, Severn, Mersey and Clyde". They're four knots faster, carry a 30mm, not 20mm main gun, two Miniguns and four machine-guns.

Even in the "wages of fear" stakes, it seems, the media can't fully rise to the occasion although, when it comes to raising a scare, as we noted earlier, few media organs can resist the temptation. Thus recently, we even had the no-dealer Telegraph gaily tell us that "in the event of a messy withdrawal from the EU on October 31, Britons could quickly see a shortage of bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms for their morning fry-up".

"There's no doubt", the paper says, "that a no-deal exit will disrupt food supply chains, particularly for fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, which cannot be stockpiled" – thereby effectively contradicting its own story of today which goes to such pains to tell us that there will be no disruption.

Still, at least the Telegraph has not sunk to the depths of today's Guardian which has a toe-curlingly awful picture of a leering Caroline Lucas, who urges "10 top female politicians to form cabinet of national unity to deliver fresh referendum" - her very own monstrous legion of women.

During the height of the UK's 2001 Foot & Mouth epidemic, I spent a week on a luxury coach touring the hotspots on a study trip organised by the European Parliament, together with about 30 MEPS, including Caroline Lucas. In the week we spent thus confined, she managed to piss off just about everybody on the coach – no mean achievement. And now, it seems, she's managing to repeat that feat, only with a wider audience.

But, if we are to believe the Telegraph, once again in optimistic mode, it reckons, "Remainer MPs are fast running out of time and options to block a no-deal Brexit". Here, though, it relies for its resident "experts" on the Institute for Government, which has had a good run for its money of late as an all-purpose pundit. It is making a good living out of picking out the bleedin' obvious and repeating it back to the media, to grab headlines telling us things we were aware of days and weeks ago.

All this, though, means the political temperature is increasing as we work our way through the "silly season", and we are soon going to see the rhetoric being ramped up to suit the opposing viewpoints. I doubt, though, whether we'll get anything quite as ludicrous as la Lucas and her female cabinet, but we should never underestimate the British media. Be prepared to be amazed.

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