In the autumn of 2020, The Faculty of Public Health was concerned about the increasing prospect of a ‘crash out’, ‘no deal’ Brexit and the implications for local emergency planning, particularly given the heavy burden already being incurred due to the global pandemic. We submitted Freedom of Information requests to all the Local Resilience Forums or equivalent in the four nations of the UK, trying to understand what planning was being done to address the possible risks posed by a no-deal Brexit. The picture painted was one of LRFs working flat out on the COVID pandemic, professionally and calmly recognising and trying to address the additional risks from crash-out Brexit in their areas. This was in the context of being provided with inadequate advice and indifference from central government. They talked of the ‘slow burn’ or ‘rising tide’ nature of the threat. The immediate prospect of the crash out was averted by the last-minute signing of an agreement still to be understood and worked through by the EU-and United Kingdom.
Now, as multiple shortage in commodities manifest in online shopping and supermarkets, the reality of Brexit is beginning to kick in. At this stage it is not because of import controls required under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement because the UK has not yet implemented these. It is a more fundamental problem of Brexit - the failure to retain drivers from European Union countries, and others in key work in agriculture and distribution. The shortage of transport and the threat to food supplies had been flagged as early as 2018 by Martin McKee and Tim Lang, in the Journal of Public Health. Unfortunately, national government chose not to heed the warning and plan for this.
The Faculty consulted with respondents on our findings and we are now publishing the results of this exercise. We greatly appreciate the efforts of Local Resilience Forums and their equivalent groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland; we commend their conscientiousness, sense of public service and professionalism. More work and more collaboration between emergency planners and public health professionals will continue to be needed to protect the public from the rising tide of Brexit related health damage. Our pre-liminary work also reveals the need for greater scrutiny and analysis of the governance of emergency planning and preparedness.
John Middleton, Maggie Rae, Isobel Braithwaite and May Van Schalkwyk
1 October 2021