“The cold stores didn’t have enough space to store our crops, so we had to throw away a week’s worth 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 go to waste.”
According to Brown, the two essential parts of production – first, extracting fresh food from the ground and then distributing it on supermarket shelves – are both affected by the lack of workers.
Firstly, the lack of truck drivers, who haul fresh produce like cauliflower to and from freezing facilities, forced the ESG cooperative at one point to throw away a week’s worth of production, at an estimated cost of 1 million pounds sterling ($1.4 million) .
Second, Brown says 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 didn’t come because the Covid regulations make it too difficult; some came, made a lot of money and went home earlier than expected.” This, says Brown, meant that around 10-15% of his harvest was wasted, costing around £200,000 ($277,000).
The shortage of truckers is probably the most immediate problem.
The current shortage of drivers is estimated at between 90,000 and 120,000, according to a spokesperson for Logistics UK. Although 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, Brits aren’t queuing up for these jobs.
“We have an aging workforce in the UK and the picture of truck working conditions [truck] drivers – unsafe parking spaces or resting places – have made it unappealing to many young people,” a Logistics UK spokesperson told CNN Business.
Those shortages should be a boon to Johnson’s political opponents, who may say his claims of having a “cookie-cutter” Brexit deal in 2019 – the promise on which he won the general election – were false.
Critics say the government has failed to adequately prepare for the inevitable consequences of Brexit and mitigate its initial impact.
Britain’s GDP growth all but came to a halt in July, according to the Office for National Statistics, partly due to supply chain issues and labor shortages. The UK economy remains 2.1% smaller than it was 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 worked to prepare businesses and citizens for the inevitable upheaval undermined by its need to present Brexit as something positive for the UK and the economy” , said Sam Lowe, lead researcher. at the Center for European Reform. “This led to confusing radio adverts that didn’t even mention the word Brexit, delayed advice and last-minute changes of heart.”
Worse still, Johnson’s government is now in the strange position of refusing to implement a key part of the deal it once hailed as a great success.
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 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 sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which would be very uncomfortable for Johnson, who likes to present himself as a strong supporter of the Union. It would also be anathema to trade unionists in Belfast, who this week threatened to unravel the region’s fragile power-sharing deal over 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 not only cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK, but knowingly exerted additional pressure on finances and stability in the region.
This could explain why Brexit Minister David Frost said on Monday that the grace period allowing goods to move from Britain to Northern Ireland would be extended, with no fixed end point.
This, of course, gave the EU, the longtime bogeyman of Brexiteers, a moral upper hand, reminding Britain that the Brexit deal Johnson voluntarily signed is a legal treaty.
These issues, while significant, are far from the only post-Brexit embarrassments that make Johnson’s “oven-ready” claims a bit silly.
Lawmakers in Johnson’s own party have received phone calls from voters upset that they were unable to get their goods into Europe because of Brexit.
All of these hardships were predicted by many of Johnson’s critics, as industry bodies lobbied the government for alternative arrangements to mitigate the damage. Johnson has been repeatedly criticized by industry executives and opponents for what they see as his reckless lack of Brexit preparedness.
Despite this, the fallout from Brexit is not being used by Johnson’s political opponents, who are instead hitting on him on domestic issues. But why?
“The problem with these kinds of stories is that they happen gradually,” says Rob Ford, a politics professor at the University of Manchester.
“One of the most tragic things about these stories is that for the public to really pay attention, something really dramatic has to happen. Unfortunately, it could be an overworked truck driver who crashes into a family car or children who fall ill through malnutrition.”
Until then, Johnson can largely blame those problems on the pandemic. Ford notes that this sits well with his “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 happen that the UK collapsed immediately. But little by little, many of the assurances given in 2016 and during years of negotiations are cracking.
Perhaps one day Johnson will find it politically expedient to introduce more Brexit downside mitigation. Yet even the timing of this is problematic: admitting you need to limit damage means 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 longer he can dodge criticism of not just Brexit as a concept, but of his chosen implementation, the less his greatest achievement becomes a millstone around his neck.