“Adding 3.000 customs agents, did the British people ask for this? To add 3.500 soldiers at the borders? No, they didn’t!” On the 19th of January, Marie Arena, a Belgian Socialist MEP, presented some claims about military and customs changes in the post-Brexit UK.
Marie Arena made these statements during a radio interview on the show Le Grand Oral on RTBF, a Belgian broadcasting channel for the French-speaking Community. She claims that an additional 3.500 soldiers will be posted at the British borders after the Brexit. Furthermore, she argues that 3.000 customs agents will be stationed at appropriate border stations. The Belgian MEP laments the Brexiteers for not informing the British people about possible logistical and mobilizational consequences such as these.
A late 2018 measure
Several British media and Euro watchers reported on the possible activation of military personnel as early as December of last year. Euractiv, a European news media with a close eye on policymaking, reported on a proposed temporary increase of soldiers on the 19th of December. The day before, British defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced that his department arranged for an amount of 3.500 soldiers to be put on standby in the following weeks in case of a no-deal Brexit. These troops would be used to deal with ‘any contingencies’, whatever those would be.
In March, Politico followed up on this subject with an article detailing some specifics of the possible military operations. According to this article, the British government confirmed that Defense would install a new operations centre for these 3.500 stand-by troops. Any actions taken by these troops in case of a no-deal Brexit would fall under the recently dubbed ‘Operation Redfold’, while actions regarding contingencies would be part of ‘Operation Yellowhammer’. What these military actions could entail is still unknown.
‘They are not there to defend Dover!’
According to Richard Lewis, senior researcher at the Institute for European studies, the troops would mostly be there to assist local law enforcement with logistical issues such as traffic build-up, unloading goods and transporting essential medicines. ‘The important thing to remember is that these figures represent a contingency plan. It is true that the figure of 3.500 soldiers has been bandied around. But they are not there to defend Dover!’, says Lewis.
£40.000 a year for one customs agent
What about the increase of customs agents? Lewis thinks that Arena is undoubtedly on the right track here. ‘The figures are anywhere between 3.000 and 5.000 that might be needed, but here it depends on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations’, he states. The price tag of one customs agent according to Lewis? A hefty £40.000 a year. ‘It’s certainly a substantial sum of money and gives the lie to those in favour of Brexit who claim that it is a huge saving for the UK’, he claims.
Marie Arena is correct on a lot of points. Military personnel and customs agents will be increased after the Brexit and citizens were only made aware of this as late as December 2018. Arena, however, does fail to address that the 3.500 troops would be used for logistical assistance, not for border security reasons. The cost for citizens is an often overlooked and essential downside of a Brexit scenario, which Arena successfully brings up. This leads us to conclude her statement is mostly true.
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