“Preppers” is a term one usually associates with camouflage-clad survivalists in Montana or North Dakota who have some serious weaponry and can tell you how to skin a deer, not residents of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who have a Brexit shelf and can tell you how many rolls of toilet paper the average person uses in a year (110, apparently). However, as the UK gears up for the result of a crucial vote in Parliament on Jan. 15 about Britain’s plan to leave the European Union—Brexit, as it is colloquially known—many Brits have decided to Keep Calm and Stock Up.
When I refer to Britain’s plan to leave the EU, I use the word “plan” in the loosest possible sense. That’s because even though the vote about whether to stay in or leave the EU was held way back in June 2016, 31 months have proved insufficient to come up with anything that is likely to pass when the vote is held on the 15th.
To say that no one much cares for what Prime Minister Theresa May and her advisors are proposing would be an epic understatement, akin to saying that the Titanic had a slight accident on her maiden voyage. Britain’s Members of Parliament are hopelessly divided, while politicians in the EU have been watching the slow-motion train wreck that is Brexit for the last two-and-a-half years with a mixture of frustration, impatience, and disbelief.
The whole thing would be slightly less worrisome if it weren’t for the fact that in order to leave the EU, Britain had to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which gave the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May triggered this process on March 29, 2017, meaning the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on Friday, March 29, 2019.
That’s right: in a little more than two months, Britain is set to leave the EU, plan or no plan. Either way, many are predicting that the result will be chaos as companies scramble to keep supplies flowing from the continent to Britain in the face of a massive upheaval to customs and border controls, permits, licences, inspections, and much else.
Hence the rise of the preppers in Britain, as people look ahead to March 30. Helena in Cardiff, who has a politics degree, has stockpiled three months’-worth of food and supplies (she’s the one who did the research on toilet paper) for herself, but has a year’s-worth of food and treats for her dog Charlie. “I don’t really trust the government to look after me; I certainly don’t trust them to look after my dog,” she says.
Jo in southwest London has stockpiled enough food to feed her family of five for up to six weeks. She used to work in the food industry, and knows how “just in time” it operates. Diane in Cambridge, an economist, confirms this: “The things you buy in the supermarket today were on the road last night. Supermarkets now don’t have warehouses full of stuff. If we have a no deal and the delays go up even by 12 hours then things will stop being put on the shelves. They will run out.”
At least people can stockpile food, and many people have a “Brexit shelf” where they’re storing surplus edibles. Jo’s four-year-old daughter Nora has a rare brain condition and is on several medications, two of which she needs if she is not to suffer several seizures a day. Both are imported, and Jo would stockpile them if she could, but they are controlled, and she can only get one month’s-worth of each at a time. She’s been told by doctors and pharmacists that “It should be all right.” However, she notes that when it’s your daughter’s life at stake, “it should be all right” isn’t good enough.
Here’s hoping that all the UK preppers find that their worst fears are unfounded. If they’re not—well, anyone known to be a prepper might find themselves very popular with their less-well-prepared neighbours come March 30.