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“An inexplicable failure to prepare the country for the reality of the Brexit era,” the Telegraph ruthlessly writes. If manpower shortages in the United Kingdom were a matter of controversy until last weekend, but in any case limited, the country is bursting with social tensions and political attacks on Prime Minister Boris Johnson over a lack of petrol. In fact, last weekend British Petroleum announced the closure of some refueling stations due to a shortage of fuel carriers. The reason for this is Brexit, coupled with the Covid crisis.
In the past year, many truck drivers have decided to stop working in Great Britain because of bureaucratic practices resulting from their departure to the European Union, not having to queue up the channel every time. In addition, the pandemic economic crisis has exhausted many trucking companies. The result is now clear: empty shelves in supermarkets, farm produce rotting in the fields because there is no manpower to collect them. And last: the petrol crisis.
On the day the EU Council approves a €5 billion reserve fund to help member states most damaged by Brexit (Ireland, France, Holland), Johnson is faltering on Brexit. Premier tries to stop. He called on the military to serve at filling stations in queues of motorists worried about not being able to fill up. This morning a man threatened a car driver with a knife, accusing him of trying to leave the line. The tension is sky high.
The Defense Ministry has alerted the military to train 150 drivers to transport fuel, which will take at least days, if not weeks, anyway. In addition, the government is considering suspending the law on competition between oil companies, which, according to the Minister of Production Activities, would facilitate the sharing of information on fuel supplies between Quasi Quarteng companies so that the sectors most in need could be reached. Priority can be given, such as sector, health and school.
But the harsh reality of Brexit forces Johnson to step back on visa policy as well. The government launched a temporary visa proposal for 5,000 foreign tanker and food truck drivers (as well as 5,500 poultry workers) ahead of Christmas. The risk – a real ‘alarm’ for British families – is that the turkey will also miss the appointment with the table set for Christmas. But the British Chambers of Commerce has already criticized the government’s measure as “inadequate”. Which horseman would actually agree to work in Great Britain for three months and then stop?
The government is also trying to speed up the process of obtaining HGV driving licenses, has sent nearly one million letters to encourage existing HGV drivers to return to the sector, and plans to train another 4,000 drivers.
Put that way, it almost sounds like a plea. Like Johnson tried with Joe Biden in their meeting at the White House on September 21. The British prime minister was hoping for a bilateral trade deal, which would save him from the isolation of Brexit. It did not happen. The US president sheds light on the subject and while he does not hide his disappointment over the consequences of the risk of Brexit between Dublin and Northern Ireland: Biden has Irish origins.
Meanwhile, the problem is not just the shortage of truckers. The condition of agriculture sector is not better. The lack of immigrants from Europe is literally rotting fruits and vegetables in the fields. Growers have started giving away their vegetables instead of leaving them in the fields to perish. The NFU National Farmers Union has sought help from the government but the truth is that it is difficult to attract the local workforce. Few people are willing to travel to rural areas from time to time for this kind of work, even for double the pay.
Johnson, unlike his predecessor Theresa May, managed to close the Brexit deal with the European Union. But now in view of the 2024 elections, his political path seems to be getting tough. Three weeks ago, the premier ended in a storm, in his own party, over his decision to raise taxes by £12 billion annually. Highest growth in the UK in the last seventy years for national insurance, state pension and social services. Purpose: To give more money to the National Health Service, Public Health, to tackle the COVID crisis. But for Johnson it meant reneging on the election campaign promise: “no new taxes”. Brexit was his fate. This could be his political end.
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