Exit costs and wobbly dikes: Brexit could result in deluges in Britain

As you can imagine, I have been, as Dutchman, watching the developments this summer first in Lincolnshire and recently in Derbyshire around dikes and dams that turned out to be outdated, and uncertain to withstand rivers or lakes filled with excessive amounts of rainwater.

Even in low-lying, water conscious Netherlands we sometimes get caught out by a dike or dam breaking; but Rijkswaterstaat (RWS, founded in the Napoleonic era), our Public Works & Water-Management government agency, is ever alert. And RWS knows from experience that when a certain type of dike or dam is wobbly in one place, it is important to inspect all dikes and dams of the same type and building era, to prevent surprises when one or more similar dikes crumble. That message is always part of RWS press briefings around incidents: local government and irrigation specialists must go out and inspect dams in their area.

In January 1995, a part of the Netherlands where our great rivers (Rhine, Meuse, and tributaries) flow through in the province Gelderland were evacuated because heavy rains, upstream in the Belgian Ardennes and Alsace, meant excessive amounts of water were coming our way, and it wasn’t certain that the existing irrigation infrastructure could cope. In total 250.000 people had to evacuate, for periods from 5 to 15 days.

Up to then, the main attention concerning massive floodings had been concentrated on our North Sea coast, with the memory of the 1953 North Sea flood which was a massive disaster in both the Netherlands and the UK (Lincolnshire flooded up to 3 kilometres inland). But from 1995, RWS and the Benelux and German authorities started a masssive updating, straightening out and adaption program for rivers and internal dikes.

The 1953 British flooding is extra relevant because Britain was (like we Dutch) still recovering from the wartime austerity and devastations, and had (Attlee, Churchill) stayed outside the European economic integration process. The Dutch were actively building up the European Coal and Steel Community, and would in 1955-’58 found the European Economic Community.

The Dutch 1953-1986 (!!) recovery from the disaster, building the impressive “Deltawerken” waterworks, was aided substantively by the boosting effect of integrating Western European economies, and in the final stage by money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

ERDF was launched by the EEC in 1972-5 because Edward Heath absolutely insisted on creating such a facility, because Britain would get nothing from the big federal EEC funding mechanism at that time: the Common Agricultural Policy. When it started in 1975, the UK got 28% of ERDF money (see Desmond Dinan, Ever Closer Union/ Introduction to European Integration; Palgrave, Houndmills, 2d. ed., 1999, p. 70-73).

With Britain already experiencing massive crises in the NHS, elderly care and housing, with Boris increasing Brexit preparation funds astronomically, and (despite Hammond’s warnings) spreading spending and tax cutting promises over all regions of the UK, London is already spending many times over any headroom from the UK’s banking crisis recovery. Boris will struggle to find money for his promises; and every steaming, monsoon-rains summer, Britain will be at risk of internal floodings, with no ERDF aid in their recovery. Johnson is cavalierly dumping all of Heath’s inheritance to Britain.

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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  • Mark Seaman 14th Aug '19 - 5:18pm

    So Brexit will cause flooding? Just chuck in plagues of Biblical proportions and you have hit maximum anti-Brexit gibberish 🙁

  • nigel hunter 14th Aug '19 - 6:23pm

    No ERDF money .What will Johnson replace it with? With the demand for money from NHS etc and the PM throwing money about after votes he is also finding billions for Brexit.Has
    he got a magic money tree to put on one side to cope with disastrous floods? . Yes, with the weather getting worse, dry one day, soaking the next repairs of ancient dams will be necessary.Regular inspections of dams will help to counteract trouble in the future. If the country wishes to stave off future deaths from flooding an insurance policy will be an advantage. When do we stop giving carrot and stick over money usage and put it good use.

  • Strong Remainer as I am, I had to chuckle at Mark Seaman’s comment.

    Come off it, Bernard. Flooding is caused by global warming and I’ve yet to see a plague of locusts descending on Leiden. It could be claimed that global warming is caused by the headlong pursuit of economic growth something which the EU has hitherto been an enthusiastic supporter of. I’m afraid acting the part of Diogenes isn’t going to help, Bernard.

  • Paul Barker 14th Aug '19 - 7:59pm

    Over the last couple of Weeks we have seen 2 Near-Disasters in The massive Power cut & the resulting travel disruptions & the Near-Failure of a Dam. The common Factor is a general indifference to boring stuff like maintaining & inspecting our Infrastructure. I doubt that most MPs & Journalists are even aware that parts of Southern England are already below Sea Level. Talking about what could go wrong is “Project Fear” until it happens & then its a mad search for someone to blame.

  • Richard O'Neill 14th Aug '19 - 9:25pm

    Inside or outside the EU, more care needs to be spent on environmental risks. Every time there is a flood there is still some sort of surprise. Obviously we can’t control the weather, but nothing should be stinted in preparing for it.

  • Peter Martin 14th Aug '19 - 9:50pm
  • Interesting how both Mark Seaman and David Raw totally missed the real substance of the article and simply focused on the example used to illustrate the real issue. However, I do think Bernard is overstating things, Boris will simply do what his predecessors did: borrow money from the US and/or the IMF at very favourable rates… not. 🙂

    However, I thing Bernard’s use of the term “outdated” has connotations that imply something different to what is really intended. The UK dykes and dams (that have failed) were found to be insufficient to withstand conditions outside of those considered in their original design. Given climate change is taking our weather into new areas, that are more related to chaos theory than simple linear extrapolation, it is going to be difficult to recommend how these “outdated” structures can be replaced. About the only practical solution is probably for the UK agencies to become more aware of the limitations of the structures across the country and become more proactive (like the RWS), however this won’t prevent events like the 2004 Boscastle flood because of the much shorter distances involved and thus much reduced time between spotting an impending event and that event happening.

  • Peter Martin 15th Aug '19 - 10:09am

    @ Roland,

    “Boris will simply do what his predecessors did: borrow money from the US and/or the IMF at very favourable rates… not.”

    Why would the US be able to lend us money when they have a National Debt (the last time I checked) of some $22 trillion dollars? Where do they get their dollars from?

    The total of world public debt is some $85 trillion, or the equivalent expressed in different currencies. Where do governments get all this credit? It can’t be from the world bank or the IMF. Maybe we are all in debt to the Martians?

  • Bernard Aris 15th Aug '19 - 10:19am

    @David Raw

    Von der Leyen chose a distinctly greener line in her presentation to the European Parliament than any previous President of the Commission; and in resisting disruptive Eurosceptics she will have to rely more on us “greener” politicians (among the Dutch parties D66 and GreenLeft ,more moderate left than the British Greens, are the biggest “Europeasns”). And we still remember that Diogenes enjoyed sitting in the sun…

    And with the London airports incapacitated for a day because the air trafic control system over the whole South of England is lagging behind what is presently needed… Boris cann’t claim building a fourth airport in the Thasmes estuary is going to solve that… 😉

    And a plague of locusts over Leiden may be far fetched; but such a plague over Wageningen where our Agricultural university is based, and which prides itself on being an R&D hub (Official name: “Wageningen University & Research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wageningen_University_and_Research ) could happen if someone in a laboratory left open a cage and a window… They are at the front of fighting malaria…

  • @Peter Martin – Why would the US be able to lend us money when they have a National Debt (the last time I checked) of some $22 trillion dollars? Where do they get their dollars from?
    I suggest for the answer to that question you read some of your previous comments on LDV about currency issuers.

  • @ Bernard Aris Actually, Bernard, I’m a bit of a fan of Dr Von der Leyen, and I’ll be in Wageningen on the 5th May next year to celebrate Liberation Day (as you know Dad was involved in all of that at Volkel, Eindhoven and Nijmegen. His great pal Bill Cain was killed at Nijmegen and it means a lot to us to visit.

    Here’s Bill’s details just out of interest.

    CAIN, de Brakkenstein crash – Noviomagus

    Translate this page
    Eén van deze laatste tien stortte neer op het grondgebied van Nijmegen. … Ivan William Cain werd geboren op 24 november 1923 in Auckland City (NZ) als … Op 28 juli 1944 werd W.O. Cain ingedeeld bij het 175 Squadron van de 121e Wing.

  • Peter Martin 15th Aug '19 - 12:22pm

    @ Roland,

    Pleased to see you read at least some of my comments.

    The answer is, of course, the same place as we get our ££. So there’s really no need to trouble the Americans, or the IMF, for a loan. In any case the extra spending involved would likely be just as inflationary. We have a finite capacity to do all the things we’d like to do. Including repair dykes and improve flood defences etc.

    A loan from the USA won’t change that. All it might do is push up the pound a little but the speculators will see its overvalued and the money will end up with them.

  • @Peter – yes the UK could print lots of GBP, just it could have printed money when it went to the US and the IMF, I suspect one of the reasons for getting external investment is that much of the equipment and expertise needed will come from overseas. Interestingly, I note Bernard is being kind and omitted the fact that much of the flood prevention technology being deployed in the UK orginates from the Netherlands, so post-Brexit the GBP-Euro rate will be important factor in the affordability of flood prevention work…

  • Peter Martin 16th Aug '19 - 11:09am

    @ Roland,

    “…….yes the UK could print lots of GBP”

    It might seem an obvious point but it’s probably just pointing out that ALL ££s are either printed or created in a computer. There’s no gold or silver involved any longer.

    So we need to create just the right amount to keep the economy functioning properly. We don’t want “lots”. We probably agree that would create too much inflation. On the other hand we don’t want too few. That will create a stagnant low growth economy.

  • We have always had floods long before any talk of global warming or climate change.
    French fishermen are apparently intending to continue fishing in Britain’s waters even after we have left the EU. How are the Government going to deal with that when they could not even protect a British flagged oil tanker in a place where such protection was known to be required ?

  • @Peter – “There’s no gold or silver involved any longer.” – The UK had abandoned to gold standard years before it negotiated loans from the US and IMF…

  • Peter Martin 17th Aug '19 - 5:51pm

    @ Roland,

    Ok but only a few years. The pound was pegged to the dollar which was in turn valued in gold until the early 70s. The loans I presume you mean were as a result of the 76 economic crisis when the £ fell below $2.

    The problem was that the Labour politicians of the time were still in a fixed exchange rate mentality and started to panic. The Tories actually did the right thing just a few years later when they let the £ fall to $1.07 Hardly anyone remembers that now. But they do remember the Labour govt calling in the IMF.

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