Over the past couple of weeks, the UK has experienced a fuel crisis that has acutely affected its socio-economic life. The irony of this fuel crisis is the fact that it was not occasioned by an actual shortage of fuel, but rather an offshoot of a problem that is emblematic of a larger symptom – Brexit.
Over the course of the fuel crisis that has been characterised by panic buying, a physical altercation at forecourts across the country, and widespread frenzy among the citizenry, prime minister Boris Johnson as well as a number of high-ranking government officials have insisted that the UK is not by any means experiencing shortage or lack of fuel. The problem, they say, lies with the paucity of HGV drivers to move the product to supply stations around the country.
However, this admission appears to be an irreconcilable irony considering Mr Johnson’s insistence that the UK’s exit from the European Union has nothing to do with the raging fuel crisis.
The UK is currently experiencing a shortage of HGV drivers, and this shortage is only traceable to post-Brexit immigration rules that had made it difficult for most workers from EU member countries to re-enter the UK.
Under the new stipulations, workers from EU countries will no longer be able to live or work in the UK without valid international passports, contrariwise to the previous arrangement that was nullified after the ratification of the Brexit agreement.
Further compounding this irony is that the UK, having inadvertently eliminated the bulk of its workforce via Brexit is now advertising short-term visas for overseas workers, particularly the experienced HGV drivers as a potential fix to the lingering crisis.
But this option only serves to cauterise the problem, not fix it. This is not to mention the tastelessness of the offer to these overseas workers who have been frozen out of the UK following post-Brexit stipulations and would now have to face the inherent dangers of travelling halfway around the world only to make a pittance and then sent packing, back to their home countries. The offer is as tasteless as it gets.
Matter of fact, the lack of appeal of this offer is further encapsulated by some European drivers who repudiated it on account that it was merely a Trojan horse aimed towards helping the British fix their imminent nightmare before Christmas, or even nightmare during Christmas itself, given the givens.
Jakub Pajka, a Polish truck driver who quit his job in the UK after Brexit, reacting to the visa offer, which expires on December 24, said the offer wasn’t worthy of consideration.
Again, even if the UK were to somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat and secure truckers elsewhere, the aftermath of the expiration of these short-term visas remains a gaunt reality.
When the UK eventually formally submitted its position to withdraw from the European Union, despite the superficial merits that had been promoted by pro-Brexit agitators, certain realities, mostly encapsulated by the economic implications of that seismic shift meant that the decision to break away was dangerously impetuous at best, one which would cost the UK in the long run.
But the implications don’t seem to be unfolding “in the long run” as initially envisaged, as recent events in the immediate aftermath of the EU withdrawal, despite recent statistics, suggests that the UK economy could be headed for the doldrums if this negative trend is not reversed with expedient urgency.
Speaking on the decision to exit the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said that when the people voted during the referendum, they were “voting to end the broken model of EU economy.”
“The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration, and allow in huge numbers of people to do work … So what I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills supported by uncontrolled immigration,” Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“When people voted for change in 2016 and … again in 2019 as they did, they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skill and chronic low productivity, and we are moving away from that.”
This was, and ironically so, the closest the prime minister had come to admitting that Britain’s exit from the EU had negatively impacted supply chains and the workforce, stretching everything from fuel deliveries to empty shelves at the supermarkets.
“There will be a period of adjustment, but that is I think what we need to sep,” he said.
This past week, Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer had berated the Prime Minister over what he feels is ineffectual handling of the fuel crisis.
The opposition leader believes that the paucity of truck drivers, estimated at around 100,000 by road haulage bodies, could grip other sectors of the economy in the foreseeable future, which is likely to cause another round of chaos among the citizenry.
While Starmer’s remarks could be ruled by some as political opportunism or desperate manoeuvring on the part of the opposition, it is difficult to flippantly dismiss the possibility that the current fuel crisis could merely be a precursor indicating an imminent crisis that could cripple the economy across the board.
Economists expect that Brexit will have damaging immediate and longer-term effects on the economies of the UK and at least part of the EU27. In particular, there is a broad consensus among economists and in the economic literature that Brexit will likely reduce the UK’s real per capita income in the medium and long term.
Further economic analysis also shows that the UK will be economically worse off outside of the EU under the most plausible scenarios. The key question for the UK is how much worse-off it will be post-Brexit.
As detailed in a Rand Europe research on the economic ramifications of Brexit, whether Brexit is judged to be a success or not will depend to some degree on its economic impact; and, recent events indicate that the deleterious effects of departing the EU are now beyond statistical conjectures, extrapolations and the optics of what post-Brexit UK will look like.
So far, efforts by the government have echoed more like tap-dancing with the elephant in the room rather than send it out of the room, a sentiment already shared by some residents of the greater London area. The residents here believe that while the deployment of soldiers to shore up fuel supply during the crisis is a welcome development. It does not definitively solve the problem.
With the economy staring down the barrel in every direction, coupled with post Brexit bottlenecks that make it difficult to navigate through the inevitable consequences of breaking away from a 47-year old marriage, the UK government now faces an uphill task of providing permanent solutions to an economy that is already struggling to recover from the damaging effects of a global pandemic. While the rejoiners may not particularly have seen Covid-19 and the lethal aftermath in its wake, their prediction of what the economy would look like in the foreseeable future seems to be materialising faster than anticipated.