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The problem was that ens18 (neutron_external_interface) was down. If using interfaces file, then setting it to manual will be enough. On Ubuntu 18.04 it uses a new software called netplan. There is a known bug that you cant keep the interface up without assigning an IP (

You can use one of the workarounds in the link. I used dhcp6: yes, dhcp4: no. This brings up the interface and then br-ex works properly. But I guess this will only let you use ipv4 (which is okay).