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Leaving EU without a Brexit deal could cause major disruptions in UK

Two years ago, British voters decided in a bitter referendum to quit the European Union. Now the country's imminent departure, possibly without an agreement between the two bodies, could cause chaos. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on how Brexit has divided Britain and how some are preparing for a potentially difficult economic fallout.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just over two years ago, Britain voted to quit the European Union, and the day is fast approaching when a deal must be struck over how that separation will work.

    Now British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is warning of chaos that could be caused by a so-called hard Brexit if Britain leaves without an agreement between London and the E.U.

    And just today, London Mayor Sadiq Khan asked the British Disaster Preparation Agency to evaluate the effects of that possible hard Brexit.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has been examining some of the potential consequences.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Dawn in Brixham, Southwestern, England, one of Britain's key fishing ports, and daily trading is under way.

    Brixham Market has Britain's biggest fish sales. Ian Perkes, who exports to Europe, is reaping the benefits of the Brexit vote. Since then, sterling, the British currency, has weakened by 12 percent.

    Perkes buys fish in British pounds and sells in euros. But there have been dire warnings that if Britain leaves the tariff-free European Union without a deal in a so-called hard Brexit, fish will end up rotting on the dockside.

  • Ian Perkes:

    A load of old tosh. There is never going to be any fish left on the dock. Every fish here for the last 30 years is sold. Nothing is ever left. There'll be no fish left rotting on the dock, I can assure you of that.

    I think business will continue, and we will thrive, which is why I voted out.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Brixham's trawlermen are staunch Brexiteers, because they regard Europe's fishing quotas as unfair. One of the world's most bountiful fishing grounds is close by, yet 70 percent of catches go to foreign fleets.

    Barry Young runs Brixham Market.

  • Barry Young:

    I don't believe the English fishermen are naive enough to believe that they're going to have 100 percent of the quota. We'd just like a little more of the natural resource on England's doorstep, so that we can have a decent living.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Brexit has divided modern Britain like never before.

    Ten miles from Brixham in Totnes, so-called remainers have launched a rear-guard action. They have declared independence from Britain and are issuing passports that proclaim loyalty to Brussels.

    You must read the oath which you have got on the back here.

  • Woman:

    I affirm my allegiance to the European Union.

  • Man:

    And promise to abide by and promote the universal values.

  • Woman:

    Upon which it is based.

  • Fiona Green:

    I'm so proud to have these.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Retired psychotherapist Fiona Green hopes that other pro-remain areas will follow and that the rebellion will bear fruit.

  • Fiona Green:

    I'm kind of outraged that this Brexit nonsense which is going to affect so many British people, especially the poorer working-class people, is — has gone through on a tiny minority vote.

  • Man:

    Congratulations. And name shall I put in here?

  • Rob Hopkins:

    Rob Hopkins, please.

    From my perspective, Brexit has been something that has caused divisions, unnecessary divisions. It's taken the lid of sort of Pandora's box of xenophobia and nationalism, which I thought we'd really kind of moved beyond.

  • Jonathan Cooper:

    Either way, it's going to be an economic car crash.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Human rights lawyer Jonathan Cooper is the architect of the independence movement.

  • Jonathan Cooper:

    The European Union has been this amazing mechanism for prosperity and peace, and it has injected fundamental values into the heart of European citizenship that we're also going to lose.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Every passing day brings a new warning for this damp collection of British isles and their traditionally stoical inhabitants. There have been reports of stockpiling of food and medicines by the government of Prime Minister Theresa May.

  • Theresa May:

    This is not just about stockpiling, that concept. What it is, is about making sure that we will be able to continue to do the things that are necessary once we have left the European Union, if we leave without no deal — without a deal.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    May tried to convince the European Commission in Brussels to accept a compromise deal, but it was rejected outright by the E.U.'s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

    This has left May caught in a vice between Europe and Britain's hard-line Brexiteers led by former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who resigned in protest at her compromise proposals.

    Political analysts say that Johnson and his supporters may soon try to topple may over Brexit.

  • Man:

    Order. Personal statement, Mr. Boris Johnson.

  • Boris Johnson:

    Let us again aim explicitly for that glorious vision, a strong, independent, self-governing Britain that is genuinely open to the world, not the miserable permanent limbo.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The government is also under pressure from big business.

    Lucy Thomas was once a prominent campaigner for the remain movement, and now advises entrepreneurs how to prepare for Brexit.

  • Lucy Thomas:

    The government hasn't made all of the preparations that one would need in order to be ready for a no-deal Brexit. They haven't got enough customs officers. There are no big lorry parks if suddenly it's impossible to move things across borders.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The port of Dover, 26 miles from Calais in France, is the main freight gateway between Britain and Europe.

    It handles business worth $142 billion each year and up to 10,000 trucks a day. The E.U.'s free movement of goods rules mean it only takes two minutes to process a truck now. But without a Brexit agreement, the reimposition of customs and other border checks could cause major disruption, as Dover warned in this video.

  • Narrator:

    Even if it took just an extra two minutes to process a lorry, it would cause queues of over 17 miles at Dover. And there would be similar chaos in Calais and Dunkirk. The slowed movement of goods wouldn't just impact ports. It would impact the whole supply chain.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Dover claims that highways could become parking lots. Some British supermarket chiefs have warned there could be food shortages, and one even claimed civil unrest might break out.

    But William Bain, a former lawmaker who represents the retail industry, wouldn't go that far.

  • William Bain:

    I think the key thing is that British consumers have become used to getting the food that they want, the quality that they want, at the price they want, when they want it. And the problem we have is a no-deal Brexit would put those sensitive supply chains at risk.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Time is rapidly running out for there to be an amicable divorce settlement. A recent poll showed that most Britons are completely fed up with the painful negotiations and want the whole process to be completed.

    Another survey showed that there were about 100 parliamentary constituencies or districts which voted to leave during the referendum that would opt to remain should they be given a second opportunity. But the chances of there being a second referendum are minuscule.

    Brexit wouldn't just mean severing trade links. Some fear Britain could leave the European police agency Europol, and lose vital intelligence at a time of international terrorism.

    Civil commissioners who hold Britain's police forces to account have told the government that the public could be put at risk.

    Matthew Scott is the commissioner in Kent, the county where Dover is located.

  • Matthew Scott:

    There is potential for both British and European organizations to lose access to information about very dangerous people. And what we're trying to emphasize is, is that if there's no deal on security, both sides stand to lose.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back in Brixham, fish exporter Steve Farrar regrets the isolation of Britain, but hopes cool heads will prevail.

  • Steve Farrar:

    Everybody's got too much to lose in the long term. You might get chaos for a little while. I think there's a lot of scare-mongering going on. At the end of the day, it's a hypothetical question, but let's just answer it hypothetically.

    Yes, it probably would be a bit awkward for a while. But fish and commodities and cars and everything else that's created in different countries, either in Europe or Britain or elsewhere, they have got to be bought and sold. The products will follow the money. They will follow the money. Easy as that.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    As he takes his turn to off-load the Mary Ann's catch, skipper Nathan Old fears a compromise when negotiations between Britain and the E.U. resume.

  • Nathan Old:

    I'm not worried about Brexit. I just know the fishing industry will be the one they sacrifice to keep deals. The House of Lords, everything, it's landowners. It's not — they don't care about fishing in this country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The pro-European lobby claims that Britain has most to lose from the divorce. But Brexit is a body blow to a deeply divided Europe. And if it's a success, anti-E.U. movements in other countries will be emboldened, further threatening the concept of a unified Europe.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in England.

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