Shortages in the UK: a growing crisis

The petrol and food shortages continue in the UK and have driven the inflation rate up to more than four percent. Many observers see the crisis as a consequence of Brexit, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists it is just part of a transition phase and the whole process will pay off in the end. Commentators continue their spirited debate about how best to deal with the situation.

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The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

What happened to "Keep calm and carry on"?

The British are behaving very "un-Britishly", The Daily Telegraph admonishes:

“An alarming number of Britons seem to have acquired a proclivity to act in a way we used to believe was alien to our character and our culture: to engage in mass panic. Despite, or perhaps because of, our prime minister saying there was no need to panic buy fuel for our cars, millions at once did so. ... Eighteen months ago, early in the pandemic, when told there was enough lavatory paper, dried pasta and flour for everyone, people descended on supermarkets and stripped their aisles. ... We are the people that came through the Somme, the Slump, the Blitz, Suez and the legion horrors of the 1970s (including petrol shortages). What has changed?”

The Sunday Times (GB) /

Nothing to do with panicking

The cities will be fine but in the countryside the shortages pose a real problem, writes The Sunday Times:

“There is still barely any fuel to be had and the queues are still epic. There's no public transport to speak of, either - that old joke about the gnarled rustic telling the frantic townie that the next bus will be along this time tomorrow is only a small exaggeration. ... When there's a shortage at the pumps, it is extremely irritating to be told off by inner city-based politicians and organisations, who suggest naughty people are 'panic buying' because they're so greedy and awful and there's really no need. Actually, the people in those queues are waiting patiently for hours because without their regular fill-up they will be stuck without food, without being able to transport their children and without being able to get themselves to work.”

Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Imagine free movement of goods!

There are ways to prevent such shortages, Sydsvenskan writes in an ironic commentary:

“The British could have taken a different path. They could have joined forces with other Europeans and established a kind of common market. Imagine if people, goods, services and capital could move freely across national borders for maximum benefit. What a great idea!” (ES) /

That's what happens when you trust populists

Those who don't want to hear the truth will feel it, writes

“What happened in the UK is an example of how false messages from politicians and flawed reporting, reinforced by some media, can be so widespread as to create a parallel reality. ... In many ways, the case of the UK is a warning to everyone about the danger of empty political rhetoric laced with outrageous lies. ... Journalists, as always, are the ones who can burst this bubble. ... It is never easy to look into the mirror of national shameful deeds, but if not now, when?”

Le Soir (BE) /

A belated rude awakening

The effects of Brexit are taking many British by surprise, says Le Soir:

“The preparations for post-Brexit were met with scepticism and disillusionment that bordered on cynicism by many Britons. ... There is a strange mixture of apathy, lack of imagination and also blind trust in fate. As history shows, Albion [the old name for Great Britain] only reacts when danger is imminent. These fundamental traits are part of national psychology. Clearly, only outsiders are capable of worrying about the future of a kingdom that was once the master of an empire over which the sun never set.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Labour shortages also in the rest of Europe

Brexit is only one among several causes for the problems, emphasises Zeit Online:

“First, the Covid crisis caused many driving lessons and tests for new lorry drivers to be cancelled. Now, the end of this crisis is driving up the demand for employees in all economic sectors. ... And finally, a long-term trend is at work, which is affecting the German economy just as much as the British: manpower is becoming scarce. ...Thus the key take-away from the British case should be that in the future we need to increase the efforts to bring foreign skilled workers into the country. In the past, states competed for direct investment; today they compete for plumbers, nurses and, yes, lorry drivers too.”

ABC (ES) /

Not the time to gloat

The politicians would do well to practice a little humility, comments ABC:

“It would also not be reasonable for the European Union to perceive this chaotic situation in the United Kingdom as just punishment for the Brexit decision. ... Good economic and political relations are still needed between London and Brussels. Still, it wouldn't be a bad thing if certain British politicians who have pushed their countrymen towards a false paradise free of Europe were first to show a little humility. Faced with empty supermarket shelves and closed filling stations as well as a shortage of nurses and other good professionals from other European countries, many British citizens will be asking themselves whether Brexit was worth it.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

The blame always lies elsewhere

The British government is making a fool of itself, says The Irish Times:

“The ministers insist repeatedly, this has nothing to do with Brexit. There are driver shortages throughout Europe too (although, strangely, no queues at the petrol pumps), shortages due to long-term challenges faced by the whole haulage industry - an ageing, low-paid workforce retiring ... The hauliers are to blame, it seems, as are anyone or anything - even Covid - except the ideologically driven champions of fortress Britain.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

The public is paying the price

The crisis didn't just come out of the blue, the Frankfurter Rundschau explains:

“Why not? In large part because there is a shortage of foreign drivers who left or were forced to leave the country after Brexit. Now the government is even planning to use soldiers as drivers. This seems somewhat like an emergency measure and is further proof that it makes a big difference whether you belong to the single market or not. ... But it's the citizens who are paying the price: those who fell for the Brexit propaganda as well as those who voted against leaving. So they are united in waiting for a few litres of gasoline and inspecting empty shelves.”

Polityka (PL) /

Learn from the mistakes of the British

Poland, where the idea of a Polexit is already doing the rounds in government circles, should keep a close eye on the problems with shortages in the UK, advises Polityka:

“In a way, Johnson is right: it's an unfortunate combination of factors. But trying to convince the public that it's just bad luck is a perfidious trick. The economy is suffering from a labour shortage, and that shortage is the result of Brexit. ... The queues at London filling stations on the weekend are really just a foretaste of the instability that a sovereign, proud Britain cut off from the rest of a united Europe is inevitably facing. ... It's worth our while to observe this process - after all, it's better to learn from the mistakes of others than from one's own.”

The Observer (GB) /

Quittance for Brexit and political failures

The current crisis has little to do with the coronavirus, The Observer puts in:

“It is not just the food supply chain that Brexit is affecting: there is also a growing crisis in the care sector, with a shortage of care workers both as a result of the pandemic and of post-Brexit immigration rules. ... A pandemic may have made things worse, but what is happening in energy, to food and to healthcare shows that years of neglect of Britain's housing, health and essential infrastructure, combined with the political right's almost fanatical obsession with Brexit, will come at a very high cost for families.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Time for London to assume responsibility

Instead of blaming the pandemic for all the problems the government should admit that it reacted too late to the labour shortages, The Daily Telegraph rails:

“Ministers were warned months ago about the impact that a lack of heavy goods drivers would have on many aspects of life. To say that this problem is being faced across Europe and the world is an abrogation of their own duty to do what they can to mitigate the effects. One difficulty has been the huge backlog in testing potential new drivers caused by the chaos at the DVLA. ... The Government resisted issuing temporary visas to foreign drivers to work in the UK on the grounds that this ran counter to its Brexit policy on border control.”