Oleg desperately needs to relieve himself. Pulling over by the side of the M20 motorway in Kent, this middle-aged Bulgarian climbs down from his truck cabin. Wiping the perspiration budding on his brow, he looks up at the scene that acquaints him: rows and rows of portable toilets along the road – each one reverberating with the moans of constipated European truck drivers.
This week, ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, the UK government had the civility to put the haulage community, and their gastrointestinal tracts, at ease.
BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.
Speaking to MPs, Rachel Maclean, an undersecretary in the UK’s department for transport, said on Wednesday that the government had agreed on a provision of portable toilets to be situated along major motorways in Kent and other areas of the country deprived of appropriate ‘evacuation’ facilities.
But there is more to the UK government’s philanthropic spirit than at first meets the eye. Among some of the worst-case scenarios charted by the UK has been the likelihood that major roads in the South-East could become clogged with hauliers, with queues of trucks amounting to as many as 7,000 attempting to cross the English Channel between Calais and Dover.
The foreseen backlog is not contingent on whether the UK is able to secure a trade agreement with the EU but is the direct result of the country having left the bloc’s single market and customs union, thereby placing a bureaucratic burden on goods arriving from the continent.
The Government’s position on this issue is indicative of the extent they are prepared to go to achieve their model of Brexit. They are content to accept the collateral damage of befouling the country’s visual (and odorous) landscape with the delivery of an altogether disagreeable cargo: waste products emanating from the sagging sphincters of cross-border European truck drivers.
The symbolism is irresistible. No other metaphoric or even literal divorce would be so humiliating as to allow one of the parties the liberty to soil over the newly planted marigolds. And after all, they do call Kent the garden of England.
But shit, in fact, could be one of the few certainties of the UK’s impending withdrawal from the bloc.
“The consequences of Brexit cannot be to create environmental or social dumping at our borders” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, referring to the EU’s desire to forge an agreement on a common set of rules and standards for trade. His statement could have just as easily referred to the presumed French outrage at the prospect of UK hauliers sullying Calais’ pastures green.
In Brussels, there is the sense that EU leaders are finally losing patience with the negotiations and are not altogether keen on taking talks down to the wire. The onus, they say, is now on the UK government “to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible.”
The statement from EU leaders after Thursday’s talks in the European capital provoked the ire of Downing Street on Friday with Boris Johnson saying that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has ‘abandoned’ the idea of offering the UK a free trade deal.
The Prime Minister then attempted to present Barnier’s planned trip to London this coming Monday as an example of the EU ingratiating the UK, as if the bloc was pandering to Downing Street’s demands. The endeavour soon backfired, however, after Commission President Von der Leyen said that the EU negotiating team would be travelling to London next week, ‘as planned.’
One EU source close to the negotiations told me earlier this week that judging by the UK’s negotiation strategy, it appears as if the country intends to run the clock down as much as possible. There is the sense in this respect that Boris Johnson’s hubris is colouring the UK’s attitude to Brexit in a nonchalant and careless shade.
London’s stance has been to derogate from any semblance of responsibility concerning the impending economic turmoil that a no-deal withdrawal may yield. The EU throws the ball into the UK’s front garden, and the UK launches it straight back, not wanting to regard this monstrous and indecipherable entity of its own creation.
Despite the lamentation over the EU’s reluctance to indulge Johnson’s haughtiness, the UK is more than prepared to open its doors to one thing, at least: hordes of European truck drivers defecating all over its front lawn. Is this really what Brexiteers voted for?
BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.