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The harsh reality of Brexit hits Britain.  It costs everyone except Boris Johnson

“The cold rooms did not have enough space to store our crops, so we had to throw away the equivalent of a week of production,” says Iain Brown, vice president of East Scotland Growers (ESG). “And we haven’t had enough workers to harvest our vegetable crops, which means they’re going to be wasted.”

According to Brown, the two essential parts of production – first, extracting fresh food from the ground and then distributing it to supermarket shelves – are both affected by the lack of workers.

First, the lack of truck drivers, who transport fresh items like cauliflowers to and from freezer facilities, forced the ESG cooperative at one point to throw away the equivalent of a week’s production, for a estimated cost of £ 1million ($ 1.4million). .

Second, Brown says that many seasonal workers, who would come from countries like Romania and Bulgaria for a few months to harvest vegetables, are now in short supply.

“Some did not come because the Covid regulations make it too difficult; some have come, made a lot of money and returned home earlier than expected.” That, says Brown, meant that around 10-15% of his harvest was wasted, costing around £ 200,000 ($ 277,000).

It looks like the consequences of Brexit are finally being felt from top to bottom in the UK. And far from the sunny highlands promised by members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, a shortage of European workers in these vital areas means financial losses for businesses and empty shelves as the UK rushes to Christmas.

The shortage of truckers is probably the most immediate problem.

The current driver shortage is estimated at between 90,000 and 120,000, according to a spokesperson for Logistics UK. While Brexit is not entirely to blame, the fact that the UK no longer has easy access to European drivers has created a headache for the industry.

These people cannot simply be replaced by British workers. Besides the fact that it can take up to nine months to qualify as a driver and cost up to £ 5,000 ($ 6,940) according to Logistics UK, Britons are not lining up for these jobs.

“We have an aging workforce in the UK and the image of working conditions for trucks [truck] drivers – unsafe parking spaces or places to rest – make it unattractive to many young people, ”a spokesperson for Logistics UK told CNN Business.

This creates a difficult choice for companies: which goods do you favor? If you only have one truck leaving your warehouse that day, you’re probably going to prioritize perishables over things like bottled water. In the long run, this means less choice for consumers and the possibility of consumer panic, as seen in 2020 when Britain ran out of toilet paper.
To get a sense of the seriousness of the problem, the bosses of Britain’s largest supermarkets described the food shortages as unprecedented – one told The Times newspaper they were “at a worse level than ‘anytime I’ve seen’ – and warned that shelves could be bare over Christmas due to a lack of drivers.

These shortages should be a giveaway for Johnson’s political opponents, who can say his claims that a Brexit deal ‘ready in the oven’ in 2019 – the promise he won the general election on – was false.

The government, critics say, has failed to adequately prepare for the inevitable consequences of Brexit and mitigate its initial impact.

UK GDP growth nearly came to a halt in July, according to the Office for National Statistics, in part due to supply chain issues and labor shortages. Britain’s economy remains 2.1% smaller than before the pandemic, and some economists believe the difference will not be made up until the second quarter of next year.

“Throughout the Brexit process, the government has found that its efforts to prepare businesses and people for the inevitable upheaval are undermined by its need to present Brexit as something positive for the UK and the UK. economics, ”said Sam Lowe, senior researcher. at the Center for European Reform. “This led to confusing radio ads that didn’t even mention the word Brexit, delayed advice and last minute changes of mind.”

Worse yet, Johnson’s government now finds itself in the odd position of refusing to implement a key part of the deal it once hailed as a great success.

The UK was supposed to fully implement a mechanism called the Northern Ireland Protocol later this year. The protocol was agreed between the UK and the EU to reflect Northern Ireland’s special status: outside the EU, with the rest of the UK, but sharing a soft land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU Member State.

Under the Protocol, goods can move freely between Northern Ireland and the Republic, avoiding the need for a hard border – a key measure to prevent a return to sectarian violence on the island. The UK has agreed that it will in turn protect the EU’s single market by imposing controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain.

This would effectively create a maritime border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which would be very uncomfortable for Johnson, who likes to present himself as a great defender of the Union. It would also be anathema to trade unionists in Belfast, who this week threatened to derail the region’s fragile power-sharing deal on the issue.

The last thing Johnson, the man who led the Brexit campaign in 2016, wants to do is allow his opponents to claim that Brexit has not only cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK, but has knowingly put additional pressure on finances and stability in the region.

This could explain why Brexit Minister David Frost said on Monday that the grace period for goods to flow from Britain to Northern Ireland would be extended, with no fixed end point.

This, naturally, allowed the EU, the longtime bogeyman of Brexiteers, to gain the moral upper hand, reminding Britain that the Brexit deal Johnson voluntarily signed is a treaty. legal.

These issues, while significant, are far from the only post-Brexit embarrassments that make Johnson’s “baked” claims a little silly.

Although they have assured UK fisheries that they would not face import difficulties into mainland Europe, the catches are thrown back into the water as the boats are unable to land and process their fresh produce on time. for it to be sold.

Lawmakers in Johnson’s own party have received phone calls from voters unhappy about not being able to get their goods into Europe because of Brexit.

“They know we can’t do anything in a lot of cases. Government websites aren’t very useful and they just aren’t getting the help they need,” a salaried government lawmaker told CNN. . “It’s difficult. They are angry that people are canceling orders and that I personally cannot get a French visa for them,” they add.
And according to a Reuters report this week, Britain is “on track to lose its status as one of Germany’s top 10 trading partners this year for the first time since 1950”, citing “related trade barriers to Brexit “as the cause.

All of these difficulties were predicted by many detractors of Johnson, as industry bodies pressured the government for alternative arrangements to be made to mitigate the damage. Johnson has been repeatedly criticized by industry executives and opponents for what they see as his reckless lack of Brexit preparation.

Despite this, the fallout from Brexit is not being used by Johnson’s political opponents, who instead hit him on domestic issues. But why?

“The problem with these kinds of stories is that they happen gradually,” said Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester.

“One of the very tragic things about these stories is that in order for the audience to really pay attention, something really dramatic has to happen. Unfortunately, it could be an overworked truck driver crashing into a car. family or children who become ill. malnutrition. “

Until then, Johnson can largely blame these issues on the pandemic. Ford notes that this goes well with its ‘Leave’ voter base, many of whom are fed up with being told Brexit was a disaster, and are often willing to believe other explanations.

But Brexit is really starting to bite. It was never going to be the case that the UK would immediately collapse. But little by little, many of the assurances given in 2016 and during years of negotiations are cracking.

Perhaps one day Johnson will see fit to introduce more mitigation against the downsides of Brexit. Yet even the timing is problematic: admitting that you need to control the damage means that there is damage to control.

And, given that much of Johnson’s political legacy will be defined by leading the campaign to ‘liberate’ Britain from Brussels, the more he can avoid criticism not only for Brexit as a concept, but for its chosen implementation, less its greatest achievement becomes a grindstone around its neck.


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