Britain, exhausted by Brexit, finds itself in a new crisis with the exit of Britain from the European Union

LONDON – There are few things that are more likely to put their teeth on the edge of a cliff in Downing Street than the provisional winner in an inconclusive German election declaring Brexit to be the reason Britons lined up at gas stations like 1974.

But there was Olaf Schulz, the leader of the SPD, to reporters on Monday The freedom of movement guaranteed by the European Union would have eased a shortage of truck drivers in Britain that prevents oil companies from supplying gas stations across the country.

“We have worked very hard to persuade the British not to leave the Union,” Schulz said when asked about the crisis in Britain. “Now they have decided differently, and I hope they will deal with the problems that result from that.”

To ordinary people, Mr. Schulz’s critique may seem like old news. Britain is no longer discussing Britain’s exit from the European Union. Almost everyone has been exhausted by this problem, and instead, the pandemic has consumed the country, like the rest of the world.

But the coronavirus, and the months of economic shutdowns it has imposed, have also masked the ways in which Brexit has disrupted trade. That disguise faded last weekend when gas stations were all over the country Gasoline is running out, sparking panic and serpentine lines from motorists looking for a fill.

While it would be wrong to blame a crisis with global repercussions solely on Brexit, there are indisputable Brexit-specific reasons: Of the estimated shortage of 100,000 truck drivers, some 20,000 non-British drivers have left the country. During the pandemic, they have not returned in part due to stricter post-Brexit visa requirements to work in the country, which took effect this year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted this when he said reverse path Last weekend it offered 5,000 three-month visas to foreign drivers to try to renew ranks (with military drivers on standby to drive fuel trucks, a move he has yet to take).

“You have business models that are based on your ability to hire workers from other countries,” said David Hennig, an expert on trade policy for the European Center for International Political Economy, a research institute. “You have suddenly reduced your labor market to one-eighth of the size it used to be. There is the impact of Brexit on business models that they have not had time to adjust.”

Mr Johnson warned that supply disruptions could last until Christmas, although more severe problems at gas stations began to fade on Tuesday. The government hopes normal buying patterns will resume now that anxious buyers have filled their closets.

This is not the first trade disruption to hit Britain since it left the single market in 2020. British oyster producers have lost entire markets in the European Union due to new health regulations. British consumers have been shocked by exorbitant tariffs on shipments of gourmet coffee from Italy.

But this is the first disruption since life has returned to a semblance of normality after 18 months of pandemic restrictions. Schools are open. Workers move to offices; The sports field is crowded on weekends. In this sense, it is the first post-Brexit crisis not overshadowed by the effects of the coronavirus.

It is also geographically selective. Gas stations in Northern Ireland, which has an open border with the Republic of Ireland (a member of the European Union), are not reporting panic buying. Similarly, Northern Ireland has not been affected by the recent shortage of CO2 supplies because soda bottling plants have access to shipments from mainland Europe.

However, Brexit has accounted for remarkably little in the public debate. This partly reflects the occurrence of epidemiological relics. Partly because other countries, from Germany to the United States, are also dealing with supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and rising oil and gas prices.

But it also reflects the hard-line nature of the Brexit debate. After four and a half years of hostility, even the most ardent opponents of Brexit are showing little willingness to move the 2016 referendum. Brexit supporters always find other culprits of bad news.

“Brexit supporters will always believe that Brexit was right, but it was treacherous politicians who screwed things up,” said Tony Travers, professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “They’ve also been lucky that they can blame the pandemic for everything.”

Pro-government newspapers acknowledge that Brexit has played a role in the labor shortage. But they stressed the government’s need to show competence in dealing with the crisis rather than focus on the structural obstacles posed by Britain’s new situation. In an editorial on Tuesday, The Times of London warned Mr Johnson that the crisis could shake confidence in his government.

“There is nothing more profound than the fear of not being able to lay one’s hand on the necessities of life,” said the Times. What the public will see is a government that has lost control. And for a government elected on the promise to take back control, this is particularly damaging.”

For Johnson, the worrying precedent is the Labor government of Tony Blair. Over a two-week period in 2000, she saw her leading edge in the public opinion evaporate when truck drivers shut down refineries in protest of rising oil prices, resulting in a fuel supply crisis not unlike the current one.

In a TV interview, Mr Johnson tried to calm nerves on Tuesday, saying that labor shortages were a global problem and made no mention of Brexit.

“I would just urge everyone to do their business the normal way and fill up the normal way when you really need it,” he said.

Public support for Brexit rose slightly in opinion polls earlier this year After Britain’s success in launching Corona virus vaccines. Some have attributed the government’s ability to secure vaccines and obtain rapid approval for them to its independence from the bureaucracy in Brussels.

Pro-Brexit politicians have used a similar argument to justify Mr Johnson’s turn on visas. Initially, the government rejected the idea because it said increased competition for labor would raise wages for British drivers. Now, those people said, Brexit has strengthened Britain’s ability to welcome foreigners on its own terms.

“Being able to issue more visas if and when our economy needs them is exactly what ‘taking back control’ was all about. Of course we should!” Liam Fox, the Conservative MP who served as Commerce Secretary under Prime Minister Theresa May, said in a statement. Tweet on Twitter.

This assumes that foreigners are willing to accept the government’s terms, which in the case of truck driver visas include a three-month limit that can put off many potential drivers.

For Labour, which holds its annual conference in the seaside resort of Brighton this week, the fuel crisis should be a great opportunity to show the government’s failings. However, with a few exceptions, the party leaders They failed to find their voice. It is reminiscent of earlier discussions, where the party’s deep divisions over Brexit have hampered its ability to stand up to the government.

“I was struck by the workers’ reluctance to go after them,” said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London. “You can allude to Brexit without saying Brexit. You can say it’s because of the trash trade deal the Conservative Party did.”

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