He has become “the Voldemort” of British politics, that is, the word that few in government and opposition say aloud. It has gone from being repeated with an anesthetizing frequency to becoming the unpronounceable cause. I am talking about Brexit – that’s it, I said it – and when I say “cause” I do not mean it with a sense of noble mission: I am referring to Brexit as the main reason for the multiple crises afflicting the UK today.
Remember the great shortage that preceded the other two, the one that made headlines before there was a lack of gasoline for cars and not enough gas to heat homes. It was the shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) needed for soft drinks, for meat production and to keep food fresh. Guess what part of the UK was not affected by the lack of CO2? Those of you who guessed it was Northern Ireland, open a can of soda. And treat yourself to another if you also know why: Northern Ireland is still part of the single market for goods, which means its bottling plants can be supplied with CO2 in continental Europe. The rest of the United Kingdom was not that lucky and to keep two CO2 plants open the British Government was forced to pay an undisclosed, albeit undoubtedly sizable chunk of public money to an American company due to … Brexit.
It is the connecting thread present in one crisis after another. Of course, it is not the only explanation. Even if it had stayed in the European Union, Britain would have been more exposed to gas shortages than continental neighbors due to the political decision to maintain much smaller reserves. A factor attributable to the incompetence of the Government, not to Brexit.
Truck driver shortage
But in the rest of the problems the UK is experiencing, there are far too many that can be attributed to that fateful decision and the way it was managed. The empty shelves of supermarkets, just like the shortage of beers in bars, are the result of “problems in the supply chain”. In other words: a shortage of truckers.
It’s true, the truck driver shortage has affected the whole of Europe and COVID-19 has made things worse by slowing down the training of new professionals. But in the UK the problem is especially serious because the combination of Brexit and COVID-19 made many EU-born drivers they will return to their countries of origin. Brexit is the sole reason behind the increased difficulties for UK companies to hire drivers from the continent and for EU drivers to operate in the UK.
Previously, a carrier from Lodz (Poland) could take a trip that included Leicester and Lyon. Now, the British side represents such a big bureaucratic mess that it is not worth it. It shouldn’t surprise us. As Sam Lowe, one of the world’s trade experts, puts it bluntly. think-tank Center for European Reform: “We made a large decision to differentiate ourselves from our neighbors.”
Or the testimony of Paul Kelly, a major Essex turkey supplier now in trouble: “The reason we’re having all these problems is entirely Brexit and nothing else.” The problem in question is the labor shortage: “People who used to come to the country to pluck and pack our turkeys are no longer allowed in.”
It’s that simple. However, few dare to say it so emphatically. Look at the words of Becton Dickinson, the main supplier of blood collection tubes for the National Health Service, when asked about the reasons for the shortage of sample bottles that during most of September has caused GPs to discontinue tests. blood test. “Transport problems” and “UK border problems”. Border problems … I wonder what that is.
There were other options
Faced with queues at the gas station and empty shelves, supporters of staying in the EU may be tempted to utter the phrase “we told you so”, but the truth is that the picture that the so-called “fear project” envisioned was quite less apocalyptic.
Although that’s only telling half the story. On the one hand, as Lowe says, the act of leaving the EU was not “built in” to make it difficult for carriers to operate in the UK. What we are seeing is the consequence of the specific agreement with Europe that Boris Johnson chose to sign. There were other options that would have kept us closer.
Even so, talking about Brexit now has to serve more than to score points for a debate in 2016. The value of raising the subject again is in finding a way out of the immediate crises. Of course, the best long-term solution is to train British drivers and improve salaries in the industry. But for the short term the need to incentivize and enable EU carriers to work in the UK is clear.
Until a few days ago, the government was opposed with the same ideological dogmatism that shaped its final agreement to leave the EU. This wrote last month the Secretary of Transportation, Grant Shapps, in a communication to the deputies: “I do not support the use of foreign labor to solve a long-standing problem in the transportation industry.” If you needed a blood test, I am very sorry, but the sacred dogma of Brexit is ahead.
Now there are signs of a 180 degree turn, with the prime minister supposedly willing to exempt of the post-Brexit rules that have gotten the UK into this mess for EU drivers, although that triggers the stampede of all sectors clamoring for a return to the free movement of their products.
But Boris Johnson should be forced to call the problem by name.
In the 14,000 word essay The road ahead, from Labor leader Keir Starmer, the word Brexit only appears five times. Usually, he mentions it to talk about the past, which leaves Labor with their arms tied behind their back, without the ability to beat the government in the cardinal that has been formed with this succession of serial crises. In the words of Labor MP Andrew Adonis: “It is incredible that an organization called the opposition is not opposing this for fear of mentioning the word Brexit.”
The Government is currently failing in one of its most fundamental duties: ensuring the supply of things that are vital basic needs. But the amazing thing is that it continues to lead in opinion polls. It will remain that way until we British have the courage to identify the central source of our problems. In the end, Voldemort was defeated. But first you had to name it.
Translated by Francisco de Zárate