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Pete Lawrence - 07 Feb 2021


Judging by this week's shenanigans on various fronts, you'd be excused for thinking that we are heading for red tape apocalypse. It's been a long time coming.

Shining a light on these dysfunctional elements can surely only help highlight the ridiculousness of many of the structures and incumbrances that we've dreamed into being for ourselves as a species.  Contracts and paperwork now seems to dominate many peoples' consciousness on a daily basis. 

Here are three examples this week of how the system - and trust - is breaking down. In a post-collapse situation, wholesale change is more likely, so, some might argue, bring it on.

The only way to come through this with a degree of sanity, for me, is to remind myself regularly of the absurdity of human behaviour through this transformational era.

1. Customs and Regulation Chaos at Borders

Much of this has been exacerbated by Covid without doubt, but I was still astonished to read this morning that the 10, 000 people now employed as clerks for UK exports at borders are nowhere near enough, according to comments in a Guardian report.  Road Haulage Association's chief executive, Richard Burnett had made clear throughout last year there was an urgent need to increase the number of customs agents to help firms with mountains of extra paperwork: 
"The number now, around 10,000 is still about a fifth of what the RHA says is required to handle the massive increase in paperwork facing exporters."

So according to his calculations, we would need 50,000 people dealing with red tape for companies and enterprises alone.

That's approximately the number of folks you can see in this photo.

So the government's 'teething problems' are just the tip of a melting iceberg. 

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation (the body for companies that move and store frozen and chilled foods), said:

As we look to April through to July what really worries me is we face a perfect storm.

“We will have an economy looking to come out of lockdown at the same time as the UK is imposing a range of import controls on EU business that may be no more prepared than UK businesses have been – and possibly less so – and a supply chain that is incredibly reluctant to service the UK. The full Brexit crisis that we were predicting could well come into effect at that point.

2. Rubber stamping in Greece

My own experiences with rubber stamping documents here in Greece, and without going into too much detail, this is my tale.  I am trying to repay a bank loan to a Greek bank.  In order to do this, they puzzlingly asked me for some legal requirements including my latest set of 'verified' accounts and a 'solemn declaration' that I am not receiving a pension nor earning a regular wage. It was explained to me that this was because banks needed official certification, as they did not trust the word of their customers. Having managed to procure the first document in early January from a Paros lawyer, I took it for stamping at the KEP office (a Greek citizens service centre that specialises in a variety of administrative certification).  This was all done as requested, but then I was asked for the second document, which I took to the same office two weeks later.  After tracking down a friend who had a printer (I haven't actually used one in over a decade), they then refused to stamp it, saying they really should not have stamped the first one, as it was against post-Brexit legislation and they could only help UK citizens who now had the new Biometric Card.

I had spent some stressful days in November completing proof of my Greek residency to get a Beige Card, but now have been told these don't count any more and the new card was the only way to proceed. My lawyer was kind enough to talk to the KEP representative on the phone and she told me that I was required to sail to another island, Syros - the administrative capital of the Cyclades - to get my card. However, I could not do that, as Paros and the whole of Greece are in lockdown and I had also heard that Syros was not yet ready to process the new cards anyway.

By this point I was feeling defeated and mangled by the system. As a final suggestion, my lawyer proffered the police. Half an hour later and a delay while the policeman thumbed through my passport pages several times, he was finally happy to stamp a document that the official stamping service had refused to do!  

I then had to ship the piece of paper to the bank in Athens as a digital copy was not sufficient. This involved one and a half hours at the Paros branch of the bank starting with a forty minute queueing outside to get through their double door security system. Then followed a fraught thirty minutes while the clerk double checked the reference code for the person it was to be sent to via their internal system, even though I had already given the name to her when I walked in. This convoluted process involved peeling off at least two incorrect bar codes on the envelope while all around, the bank was in chaos with alarms ringing, bleeps going off and stressed people shouting and jostling. This whole rigmarole necessitated 15 minutes of deep breathing on the seafront to shake off my own stress after I emerged in full celebration of my vital piece of stamped paper, which was now in transit to Athens. 

I am still waiting, six weeks later, to complete my transaction, which I had offered to have make in early January. It is interesting to speculate on the carbon footprint of the process. A week later,  I still haven't heard back from the bank. 

Add to that the growing confusion around permits and licenses, especially relating to whether or not we have to transfer to EU licenses and whether we are required to take a driving test all over again, something I would not relish after 44 years. There is an entire Facebook group dedicated to the red tape around UK citizens who have moved to Greece and the issues they are now facing. It's hugely busy, but I mostly try to avoid it as I get a headache every time I go near it. 

3 This week's rough and tumble with Handforth Parish Council went viral around the world

If ever there was evidence that systems of 'governance' we have set up are a nonsense, and that models for 'local authority' need a reinvention, then this is it. Laugh or cry at this very public meltdown of humanity.


The moral of this?  Underneath the chaos; the squabbling; the pretence; the facade; the authoritarian posturing over one another, we are all human beings. 

Time for the laws of nature to make a comeback?




Christopher Brown

down here in Cornwall the shellfish and fish sellers do not have a rosy future and its difficult to see the home market take up the slack but I wonder whether this was Boris's intention all a long he certainly ticks all the boxes for chaos and I am sure if Trump had stayed in office we would have become the 51st state the crazy thing is the conservative party still leads in the polls but as you point out in your piece above we can drown in red tape we desperately need new narratives as human beings to face the future


Graham Robinson

I feel your pain with Greek bureaucracy. Try registering a birth with the child taking the mothers surname. This involves visiting around 6 different offices, form filling, swearing an oath on the Greek Orthodox bible, visiting a man in a jewellers shop for his permission ( no I have no idea either) A visit to the British Embassy ( who refused to take Pounds Sterling in payment ) A military service exemption form, and around a bucket of sweat rushing from one office to another before they close. The offices seem to be open at random times and usually close around 10 minutes before you get there, whatever time that is. Date stamping machines with their particular kerlump sound can still bring me out in a rash.


Graham Robinson

As far as the breakdown goes it seems we are arriving at Ottoman levels of rigid unyielding systems. Lots of parts of the world deal with this by sloppiness and slipping between cracks or paying bribes. We are stuck between algorithms and the something must be done mentality of our politics driven by a rabid media. The utter complexity of our 21st century citizenship means we can take endless hours trying to fit with systems devised to make life easier for the bureaucrats and their computers. On the plus side Brexit and Covid are making the ineffectiveness of the systems we have in place more and more plain. The vaccine roll out is just about the only thing in the past 10 years that I can think of that has operated efficiently and with humanity. Maybe some lessons will be learnt. The technocratic, neo con model is surely run its course now. Its proponents look increasingly unhinged. We can go two ways from here, spiralling down into some Trumpesque dystopia or revving up the human centred Gross National Happiness model. Its quite an exiting time to be alive


Jo Morphy

Very amused (sorry it's not funny) to read your beaurocratic nightmare with the Greek bank/authorities, that was like reading my 30 yrs in Greece all over again and the deep breathing on the beach afterwards. I ran a business there for some years (before technology); moving there at 11 yrs old before they joined the EU I was good for a resident permit via my father who was a long standing business owner (my family opened it in 1864). At the age of 18 yrs my father paid for a dodgy work permit for me, that worked. I would think you can still buy most things
, including saving time, but it's who you know. Otherwise, Greece is lovely!! lol x


Jo Morphy

I am bulking up on food and water supplies (candles, camping gas etc) just in case! who knows what these psychopaths will pull next?

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