Brits prepare for shortages and price increases
As the probability of a second wave of Covid-19 in the UK looms large so does the prospect of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Britain’s transition period in its departure from the European Union will end on December 31 yet agreements are still not in place in a number of key areas including trade and fishing rights.
People have now openly started discussing stockpiling and the shortages that a No Deal Brexit is likely to result in. People have started stocking up on emergency and disaster foods and the media has even started advising on what foods and items to stockpile. The households that can afford to are engaged in building up a stock of canned food, dry carbohydrates (pasta, rice, flour etc) and whatever household items they can. In addition to this many middle-class shoppers seem particularly concerned about the availability of items such as olive oil after December 31. Fruit and vegetable supplies are also likely to be adversely affected and already prices of these have gone up.
The conversations on the stockpiling forums are astonishing. Everybody on these forums is pessimistic (after all that’s why they’re there), and the expectation seems to be that not only will there be food shortages but also shortages of essential medicines. There is also much talk of leaving the UK and becoming resident in Europe — Portugal and Ireland seem to be favourite options. In fact, Portugal has seen a significant rise in the number of UK citizens registering for residence there. This is quite straightforward for British passport holders (till December anyway) but Portugal is now also actively encouraging people from all over the world to move there, and offers a simple ‘Golden Visa’ scheme to bring in even more people (apparently this is being taken up by, among others, many wealthy South Africans).
In the UK, apprehension was fuelled last month by a leaked government report which detailed possible scenarios in the event of No Deal and a second wave of coronavirus cases. This involved food and water shortages, power cuts and price hikes yet the Boris Johnson government downplayed all of this saying that the report was just part of ongoing and routine exercises in planning contingencies. A report drawn up by Border and Protocol Delivery Group on post-Brexit scenarios talked of a worst-case scenario: huge border queues (of up to 7,000 lorries), and up to two hour delays to cross into the EU via Eurostar/Eurotunnel or by air (if UK passengers are not allowed to use e-gates). A major concern expressed in this report is whether the IT and communications systems needed to facilitate this change are being funded and put into place and whether these will be up and running on time or not.
The government’s standard public response to all such questions consists of rhetoric which reiterates the Brexit timetable, dismisses the possibility of any extension and depicts the EU as sinister bureaucrats who are hostile to British interests. Earlier this month the government even suggested that it would renege on what they had already agreed on, the EU deal that Boris Johnson had, just a few months ago, termed ‘oven ready’. This created quite an uproar as not only four former British prime ministers criticised this move saying that it was breaching international law and would harm the UK’s international reputation, but so also did Boris Johnson’s ex-attorney general (and a Brexit supporter), Geoffrey Cox. Several Tory MPs have also taken a stand on this ahead of the vote on a bill that would allow the government effectively to renege through new legislation. The dissenting Tories include Rehan Chishti, who resigned as the PM’s envoy on religious freedom because he too “had real concerns with the UK breaking legal commitments under the withdrawal agreement.”
Although the government has managed to push the bill through its first reading, its credibility with the public is diminishing. While some die-hard Brexit supporters in the UK are looking forward to January 1, 2021 as a time of liberation — ‘Independence Day’ they call it —a rising number of people are filled with dread as to what will happen. The worst-case scenario is marked by chaos, food shortages and disruption and the best case one by British people staying stoic through these troubled times, displaying their famous ‘Blitz spirit’ and readjusting slowly to the reality of isolation that has been brought on by the referendum of 2016. Irrespective of which scenario materialises, my guess is that the rich will get richer and the poor substantially poorer.