Food shortages: we believed Johnson’s Brexit fairy-tale and now we’re paying the price


After five years of watching newsreaders’ eyes glaze over whenever they’re forced to read out yet another Brexit headline, it is exasperating to think that we are only just beginning to see the tangible effects of our decision to leave the European Union.

Top supermarket bosses and restaurants have been reporting dwindling stocks and shortages since taking substantial blows to their recruitment numbers following the effects of both Brexit and the pandemic.

McDonald’s has been forced to pull milkshakes from their menus, whilst Nando’s had no choice but to close 50 restaurants after a shortage of chicken. Iceland boss Richard Walker has raised the alarm of yet another “cancelled Christmas” as retailers struggle to stockpile festive cult-classics such as pigs-in-blankets due to manufacturing delays.

According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the industry is currently facing a shortage of approximately 100,000 HGV drivers.

Since immigration rules toughened up and Covid-19 reared its ugly head at the beginning of last year, the EU nationals who would normally have travelled to the UK to fill many of the vacancies in these sectors have, understandably, opted to remain at home.

A compound loss of labour workers that could make problems last well into 2022

A substantial number of those that had already settled in the UK have also left the country, resulting in a compound loss of labour workers that could make problems last well into 2022, as policy director at the RHA, Richard Buchanan, told The Independent.

The UK’s exit from the EU single market and therefore its increased border bureaucracies continue to deter international HGV drivers; long delays are not financially viable when salaries are being paid by the kilometre as opposed to by the hour, as they are for some in the industry. 

But how can all this come as any surprise when we have been predicting these are the types of issues from the moment the possibility of a referendum bled into public awareness?

Regardless of the pandemic, these problems would have come to fruition (although admittedly to a lesser extent), and many have found it deeply frustrating that Boris Johnson remained so stubbornly negligent to them in the lead up to the referendum. The Leave campaign’s obsession with taking back employment opportunities for domestic workers, for instance, was a great contributor to its ultimate success.

To our own detriment, we are much more ambitious

However, we are now faced with the embarrassing irony that many of these ‘low-skilled’, often low-paid jobs that used to be filled by EU nationals simply do not appeal to British-born people. Unfortunately, it appears that, to our own detriment, we are much more ambitious than we give ourselves credit for.

The danger, however, lies in the government scapegoating Covid-19 while the issues directly related to Brexit are indefinitely pushed to the side-lines. The ‘pingdemic’, for example, took centre stage in both government and the media for a substantial time.

If the Prime Minister thinks pandemic-related issues can prevent public recollection of the outright fairy-tale that was his 2016 Leave campaign, then he is sorely mistaken. We are reminded that he and his government are just as responsible for the damage the likes of the ‘pingdemic’ have done to the industry as they are for the injuries caused by Brexit.

Mistakes made now will resonate further down the line

Further, while we can all hope for a future without a pandemic, there is no hope of a future without Brexit. While the problems it poses do not always seem as urgent, mistakes made now will resonate further down the line and may have the power to delay our economic recovery for even longer.

In July the government responded to pleas for support from RHA by pledging to “streamline” the process for those who wish to acquire an HGV licence, “attract new drivers” and “encourage people to stay in the industry”.

While some action is being taken, clearly it is not enough to solve the problem quickly. Boris Johnson dismissed the warnings and now we are paying the price.

As the Christmas period draws nearer, it is looking more and more likely that the government will be forced, yet again, to deal with another resounding wave of public discontent.

Image: Martijn Baudoin via Unsplash

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