UK rail strike london
Travellers with camping equipment wait at Paddington Station in London the day after national rail strike Image Credit: Reuters

On Wednesday, few trains were running up and down Britain as workers who maintain the tracks and those who drive the trains went on strike. It was the latest in a series of industrial actions that have paralysed the railways, with only about one train-in-five operating. Vast swathes of England, Scotland and Wales were left without service.

The notion that in five or so years’ time, Britain will have a new High Speed Train service (HST2) seems incredulous, even if it will only go from London to Birmingham. Last week, as temperatures reached the highest ever records in many areas of the island, train services were cancelled because the rails were only built to sustain services of 27 degrees Celsius.

At London Heathrow, the United Kingdom’s busiest airport, there is a nasty row underway. The operator of the airport wants airlines to limit flights, saying that it can only handle 100,000 passengers daily.

The vast areas of trolleys loaded with mislaid luggage speak to the chaos that has unfurled at Heathrow. The idea of wanting to build a third runway at the airport, basically doubling the capacity, seems to stretch the imagination quite a bit now.

Other airports up and down Britain have endured similar problems as there are long delays being processed through security — not enough staff — and serious issues when it comes to baggage being loaded or unloaded from planes. Yep, not enough staff. In one instance, a pilot helped get the luggage on-board so his flight could make its slot.

Post-Brexit: Grocery stores are having difficulty keeping all of their shelves full Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/Gulf News

Even on England’s highways, roadworks seem to take forever. Officials in Whitehall have, over recent years, decided that instead of building new roads or expanding infrastructure — or adapting policies that might deter car ownership — come up with a plan to create what they call “smart motorways”.

This policy simply means that where there is currently a three-lane motorway in each direction, along with hard shoulders, the highway is turned into a four-lane road by removing the emergency shoulders. Every 500 metres or so, an emergency pull-in is being created, and the roads are supposedly constantly monitored by safety cameras. But it’s a mess.

Long stretches of motorway are being worked on forever, and speed restrictions and narrow lanes are in place for miles on end. But here’s the rub. Even the ministry building the roads say they are unsafe, and are reviewing their policy. Too many people have died, unable to get to safety, and their stranded vehicles go unnoticed on the cameras. It’s a mess.

So, when things seem to be bad, you can always rely on them getting worse — which is exactly what happened last weekend, traditionally the busiest travel time in the UK. Schools closed on Friday for their annual summer holidays, meaning lots of families planned to pack their bags and head away for a long-anticipated summer holiday.

And yes, with all of the mess at airports, with cancelled flights, long queues and missing baggage, tens of thousands of families planned to take the ferry across the English Channel and drive to their holiday destinations in France, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere.

It’s easy to understand why they have the urge to get away. This is the first summer in three years that coronavirus lockdown provisions haven’t been widespread and that people can actually make travel plans with the prospect of being able to keep them without Covid-19 disruptions.

But it seems as if everyone on the UK side of the Channel forgot about Brexit.

All weekend, television and radio stations carried live reports from Dover, where nobody was going anywhere even at a snail’s pace Image Credit: Gulf News

Ah Brexit! Where the UK is free from the fetters of Europe and can find its own way in the world. Yes, Brexit, where the UK can “take back control” of its own borders.

It’s just too bad those who tout Brexit as being the magic bullet for all of Britain’s woes forgot to tell the British public — especially those who travel — that leaving the European Union and ending the free movement of people across the 28 member states, would mean that their “free movement” would be curtailed.

Yes, passports have to be checked and stamped. And that takes time. Approximately 45 seconds for each person wanting to access the EU — even through the ports along the southern English coast.

All weekend, television and radio stations carried live reports from Dover, where nobody was going anywhere even at a snail’s pace. Families drove two miles in 10 hours. Tailbacks of traffic stretched as far as the eye could see. And British politicians were quick to blame the French for the delays. Yes, in true British form, when all goes wrong, blame the French!

But hang on a minute. The French didn’t vote to leave the EU. It wasn’t the voters from Bordeaux who wanted out of free movement — it was the folks from Brighton and Birmingham, Bristol and Brent who collectively decided they had enough of Europe.

Even with Britain out of Europe, it’s Europe’s fault, it seems.

Johan Lundgren, the CEO of easyJet, one of the airlines most affected by the chaos at airports, stuck his head above the parapet to say that Brexit was to blame for a lot of the misery.

His airline rejects some 40 per cent of applications for baggage handling positions simply because they’re from EU nationals who used to have the right to work in the UK under the free movement of labour principle. That ended when Britain left the EU.

So, how are you liking Brexit so far?