Eight months into Brexit UK organisations still haven’t sorted out the basics of sending things into the EU, I recently found. I wanted to order something from the Royal Academy of Arts webshop, where the order form simply didn’t provide delivery options for the EU. I could have my order shipped anywhere in the world, except the EU. Nepal, Nigeria, Nicaragua all fine, but not Netherlands. This strikes me as odd, because in this case there’s no reason to not simply put all EU customers into the RA’s existing ‘rest of world’ column to decide on delivery fees. We’re all third countries now as seen from the UK, meaning that there’s no difference anymore between us and the rest of the world. Of course I know it currently can take a while for there being haulage capacity, influencing delivery times, but that’s a different thing than not being willing to even send it out.

The original idea was to have a framed artefact shipped. The odd as well as outsized size of the artefact means it isn’t easy to have it framed locally, while the RA offered a good price on a frame.

Being confronted with no EU delivery, I had to find someone in my network who lives outside the UK in a third country that is not in the EU (nor the EEA, and not Switzerland). So that that person could receive the goods and then forward it to me. Such forwarding should be easy. Everybody else in the world knows how to send things to the EU. Unlike the RA in the UK it seems.

I found my friend Peter, who lives in Canada, willing to help out as middleman. I realised sending something big framed and with a large glass pane across the Atlantic twice just to get something across the Channel once, apart from being silly also might be risky to the package. So I settled on the slightly less silly option of acquiring the artefact unframed so it could be send on that wide-ranging route rolled up in a basic cardboard tube. The RA promptly dispatched my order to Canada the next day. Where Peter received it and forwarded it to me by regular mail (see RA, you could have dropped it at the post office down the road). I paid the import duties and VAT as you do when you get something from third countries, and I took delivery right on E’s birthday as intended.

Thus it came about that the RA was unwittingly sending an artwork into the EU. International cooperation circumvented the Brexit blockade.

Now all that’s left to do is get it framed locally.


Running the chain on the Medway in 1667, 1788 print by Reinier Vinkeles after a drawing by Jacobus Buys, license Public Domain, source Rijksmuseum. In my case it was simply the mail man doing their regular work, allowing the package to cross the inexplicable blockade.

Brexit seems to be affecting the birds in our garden. We have a bird feeder for which we periodically order seeds in 10kg bags. We order them through the Dutch national wild birds protection association. In the fall I noticed that our order was being shipped from the UK, and I wondered if anything might change by the end of the year. It seems it has.

Currently seeds can’t be ordered, first only for the big bags, now also for the smaller quantities. The Dutch birds protection association has a webshop which is run by Vivara. Vivara in turn is a brand name used by a UK firm CJ Wildbirds Foods Limited with two subsidiaries in the Netherlands, according to the company register. The UK facing webshop of CJ Wildbirds Foods offers the same products, but has no stock issues I see.

Phytosanitary rules, customs and VAT rules entering into force on January 1st are the most likely explanation.
The question now is if I can find a new supplier of similar bird seeds faster than CJ Wildbirds Foods can sort out the impact of third country regulations for exporting and shipping to the EU, or faster than the Dutch bird association finding a different supplier for their webshop.

David Orban highlights the inverse proportional relationship between efficiency and resilience. When you have a fully efficient process it won’t be able to cope with even small changes in surrounding conditions. Whereas a system with some redundancy built in to cope with changes in conditions is less efficient (because that redundancy means increased costs for the same output).

Resilience I think can be decoupled from efficiency sometimes, but then it is usually coupled with effectivity. When the input/output ratio isn’t impacted, but the quality and utility of the output temporarily diminishes. Resilience is a component in how I think about networked agency.

Processes and systems that have been slimmed down to high efficiency as a result are often very brittle. In current affairs Brexit and the Corona virus are colliding with that brittleness, the first is a slow speed collission hard to look away from and the second one a more high speed collision. Whether it is disruption of (JIT) production or transport processes, or whether it is overwhelming healthcare systems, or both. The biggest impact on you of e.g. Covid-19 is likely not that you individually might fall ill and die, but the brittleness of systems that are impacted by it (production, delivery, mobility, healthcare availability also for other things than Covid-19) and how it impacts your personal life (running out of your meds, opportunity loss, slowing down of business, goods not arriving). Cascading system failures because of all the interdependencies.

I for instance have 3 products to be delivered from China, and the factories involved have been closed for well over a month now. One factory is now allowed to re-open and will take 6 weeks to get back on track. For me that is a trivial issue, but if you run a company that sells these products, or produce things that depend on a specific part that comes from a now closed factory, it isn’t trivial but a real and present issue.
More directly a healthcare system overwhelmed or even just starting to get impacted by Covid can lead to higher fatality rates amongst Covid patients (visible in Wuhan at the moment) as well as others. Currently there are 20 Covid patients in the Netherlands, and already three different ICU’s are closed for new patients. Not because they can’t handle the numbers, but because they had a Covid patient without realising and are now closed until they are certain there is no more risk of infection. This directly impacts e.g. where other types critical patients can go and be treated.

In that light the following articles are worth reading, about numbers, the likelihood of a pandemic, and brittleness of systems.

On the spread and transmission of Covid-19: Coronavirus’s Genetics Reveal Its Global Travels
On the impact of numbers: Forget about mortality rate, this is why you should be worried about coronavirus
From a business continuity perspective: Coronavirus Predictions and Business Impact: How Fast It Will Spread, Creating a Business Continuity Plan, and What You Should Stock Up On

And then think about what you can do to increase your personal resilience. E.g. by ensuring you have a month worth of your regular meds, or by having larger stocks than usual. At worst you’ve done your shopping a few weeks early, at best you are all set should you be required to isolate yourself at home for two weeks or more. Tthere’s not much of a down-side to taking such measures, while it prevents a large potential down-side.

Read Revolution and counter-revolution
Brexit makes liars of everyone who tries to enact it, even if they are not by nature as mendacious as Johnson or as destructive as Cummings. For it derives ultimately from the lies within the Vote Leave campaign itself which, at heart, promised that Brexit could be done without negative consequences. This led May into such tortured positions on, for example, maintaining ‘frictionless trade’ whilst leaving the institutions that make that possible. It is still present in Johnson and the Brexiters’ underlying position that there can be an open border in Ireland whilst leaving the institutions that make that possible.

Chris Grey’s Brexit blog is a very worthwile read, bringing up the energy to weekly take a detailed look at what is happening in the UK regarding Brexit. Where many others run screaming frustratedly, or deludedly shout ‘get it over with’ as if there’s a simple Gordian knot style solution to solving the complexity of Brexit, especially as it has become based on mutually exclusive notions, as per the quote. Getting it over with simply means you return to the exact same issues the next day, after having needlessly created a gaping hole in your legal framework as well as economy which do nothing but undermine your ability to solve those issues, merely having taken them from ‘important to solve’ to ‘extremely urgent to solve’.

Bookmarked How the Irish backstop emerged as May’s Brexit nemesis

The Irish government started planning for Brexit in 2014, a full 2 years before the UK referendum, and lobbied both EU and Cameron to secure a yes vote. In contrast it seems the UK started debating the impact of Brexit on the Irish border in earnest about two weeks before the 29 March cliff-edge. “Easiest deal in history” and all that.

Ireland was streets ahead of the UK when it came to planning for Britain’s exit

The Guardian