Brexit has made me join the ranks of doomsday preppers

Pilita Clark: Office colleagues who have long feared the worst now look savvier

The man sitting next to me arrived at work to report he had been in a Morrisons supermarket on the weekend and the toilet paper shelves were empty

The man sitting next to me arrived at work to report he had been in a Morrisons supermarket on the weekend and the toilet paper shelves were empty

 

For many weeks now, the Brexit questions worrying people in my office have followed a predictable pattern.

Can anything solve the Northern Ireland border dilemma? Will Theresa May ever get her deal through? Is shitstorm one word or two?

But the endless wrangling over how and when the UK will leave the EU has changed things, as I suspect it has in many British offices.

To begin with, the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal on March 29th has revealed stark differences between the organised and the chaotic.

Last week’s votes in Westminster may have pushed that deadline back, but employees who went through the palaver of renewing their passports are still looking smarter than those who did not bother. As things stand, anyone trying to head off on a work trip to Frankfurt with a passport that expires in less than six months may soon not get past the airport.

The same goes for the people who have bothered to figure out which mobile phone companies are sticking with EU rules banning extra roaming charges abroad. Before long, the rules may not apply.

Stockpiling

More divisions have been exposed as Brexit has forced people to confront a question that once barely dared speak its name: stockpiling.

The first time one of my colleagues admitted she had been buying up extra loo paper, people were so shocked that one person immediately posted the news on Twitter.

I was among the stunned. Obviously, I had read reports that the UK is one of Europe’s largest importers of toilet paper and Brexit might cause shortages. But I had no intention of joining the unseemly ranks of doomsday preppers.

That was before the man sitting next to me arrived at work to report he had been in a Morrisons supermarket on the weekend and the toilet paper shelves were empty. I was online in an instant, racing to Ocado, the supermarket website, where thankfully there was good news. Nine-roll packs of paper still seemed to be readily available. It was no surprise last week to hear the boss of Morrisons say there had been “quite a pick-up” in sales of toilet rolls and painkillers.

The whiff of shame that once surrounded the idea of stockpiling has given way to a dawning realisation: panic buying might mean hoarding is not such a bad idea.

In other offices, matters have taken a testier turn. The other week, a friend told me he had been dealing with a London marketing company whose boss had told him there had been such a row over Brexit among the firm’s staff that operations had been briefly suspended and all discussion of the topic in the office had been banned.

Leavers

I was not able to speak to the boss in question, but a colleague has reported on Leave voters who feel unable to “come out” at work and have set up their own national social club, which had more than 4,000 members last month.

In places where fears are growing that a no-deal Brexit will threaten jobs, strains have been more evident. When Nissan reversed a decision to make a new 4x4 model at its Sunderland plant in northern England last month, a local councillor in another carmaking town got into hot water for saying workers who had voted to leave the EU “should be laid off first”.

Acas, the workplace conciliation service, says its helpline staff have taken Brexit-related calls from a number of people.

An EU citizen working in the UK was worried she would not be allowed back if she went on holiday, a spokesman told me last week. Another person had been sacked for misconduct but thought the real reason was their factory was shifting to another country in the EU.

Overall, however, Acas says there has been no increase in the volume of Brexit calls.

Equally, CIPD, a body for HR professionals, says it has not come across any major Brexit-related incidents. “But everyone understands it’s an increasingly polarising time,” said David D’Souza, CIPD membership director. “There’s an underlying concern about what will happen in the next few weeks.”

Indeed there is and so far, horrifically, there is little end in sight.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019

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