Blame Brexit, not the pandemic, for UK’s woes
For some time, I have been contemplating abandoning my addiction to driving in order to do my bit to help save the environment and protect the planet. But this week I have had no alternative but to consider other means of transport, as many UK garages have no fuel at the pumps.
This is alarming, since the shortage is not due to trade union strike action, but simply because the UK hasn’t got enough truck drivers to meet the demands of the supply chain, from fuel stations to supermarkets. So where have all the drivers gone?
We are told that the pandemic has caused many of the problems the UK has been grappling with for the past two years. But I have just returned from France and they don’t seem to have fuel shortages, empty supermarket shelves or hospitals without enough nurses. I called my friends living in other EU countries to check if they had enough fuel at their pumps and enough chicken in their shops. Contrary to the key excuse we hear from the Conservative government that the pandemic is to blame, it is becoming increasingly clear that the ill-thought-out and poorly executed Brexit divorce from the EU is to blame for the problems the country is facing. I am leaning toward agreeing with a French official who this week claimed that the UK’s exit from the EU was based on an “intellectual fraud.”
I am finding it difficult not to blame Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government for all the current and future crises. The Conservatives have been in power since 2010 and Johnson and his friends were the driving force behind the UK leaving the EU. The PM’s “oven-ready” post-Brexit deal with the bloc — as it was sold to the electorate ahead of the 2019 election that the Tories won in a landslide — was clearly half-baked and is failing to meet the basic needs of the British people.
Yes, the government has now agreed to issue 5,000 emergency visas for truck drivers to plug the gap, as it finally heeded months-old warnings that drivers have been in increasingly short supply since the end of the free movement of workers due to Brexit. But will that be enough? I don’t think so, as the whole delivery system is suffering and that is affecting businesses across the board, including factories, hospitals and the building industry, while fast-food chain McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes last month, Nando’s had no chicken, coffee shops are finding it difficult to recruit experienced staff, and the care industry is unable to find qualified carers.
The decision to expand the critical workers visa scheme is yet another U-turn by Johnson, whose government had insisted that Britain’s reliance on foreign labor must end post-Brexit. I was also disbelieving when I heard Conservatives calling on the government to protect the domestic jobs market and to shield British truck drivers from a foreign labor invasion. Somehow, the Conservative Party, which for so long had been a champion of the free market, has suddenly had second thoughts and now favors protectionism, even isolationism.
The PM’s ‘oven-ready’ deal with the EU was clearly half-baked and is failing to meet the basic needs of the British people.
The fuel crisis and driver shortage adds to the list of indicators that points to a Britain broken by Brexit and the lack of preparation for its aftermath by this government. Johnson and his ministers would like to spin all the problems we are facing in the UK as being worldwide, when in reality they are not. Brexit has clearly damaged UK businesses, with exports to the EU falling sharply. The disruption to the supply chains of manpower and products across the board has resulted in empty shelves in the shops, staff shortages, rocketing energy prices, and squabbling over trade with Northern Ireland. This in addition to long NHS waiting lists, which have added to the problems of the already-starved health sector, with thousands of experienced nurses needed. One hospital in Nottingham recently announced that staff shortages are forcing it to ration chemotherapy for cancer patients.
As people in the UK are bracing themselves for an autumn crisis that will surely spill into a long, cold winter of further neglect and misrule by this government, Johnson — as one of the public faces of the Vote Leave campaign — is proving to be ineffective at leading the country out of its misery both domestically and internationally.
His speech at the UN General Assembly last week led many here to roll their eyes and run for cover as a result of their embarrassment at a prime minister calling on humanity to grow up, while evoking “The Muppets” character Kermit the Frog’s song “It’s Not Easy Being Green” in his efforts to encourage nations to adopt more climate-friendly economic policies. His stand-up comedy-like act was met with silence in the hall.
The sad truth, however, is that Johnson is not going anywhere soon. His party has a comfortable majority in parliament and the opposition is failing in its efforts to keep his government in check. So it seems it is down to leading Conservative Party figures and the members to finally say enough is enough, which I doubt they will do any time soon.
In Britain today, one cannot mention Brexit as the cause of the country’s current crises. And until this issue is addressed, the people in this deeply divided nation will be forced to jump frog-like from one problem to the next.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.