Analysis: Brexit chilly turkey: UK tries to kick 25-year imported labour behavior


LONDON, Oct 5 (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s 25-year-old mannequin of importing low-cost labour has been up-ended by Brexit and COVID-19, sowing the seeds for a Seventies-style winter of discontent full with employee shortages, spiralling wage calls for and worth rises.

Leaving the European Union, adopted by the chaos of the largest public well being disaster in a century, has plunged the world’s fifth-largest economic system right into a sudden try to kick its dependancy to low-cost imported labour.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit experiment – distinctive amongst main economies – has additional strained provide chains already creaking globally for the whole lot from pork and poultry to medicines and milk.

Wages, and thus costs, must rise. learn extra

The longer-term influence on development, Johnson’s political fortunes and the United Kingdom’s on-off relationship with the European Union is unclear.

“What I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills, supported by uncontrolled immigration,” Johnson, 57, stated when requested in regards to the shortages.

He stated Britons had voted for change within the 2016 Brexit referendum and once more in 2019, when a landslide election win made Johnson essentially the most highly effective Conservative prime minister since Margaret Thatcher.

Stagnant wages, he stated, must rise – for some, the financial logic behind the Brexit vote. Johnson has bluntly instructed enterprise leaders in closed conferences to pay staff extra.

“Taking back control” of immigration was a key message of the Brexit marketing campaign, which the Johnson-led “Leave” marketing campaign narrowly gained. He later promised to guard the nation from the “job-destroying machine” of the European Union.


Johnson casts his Brexit gamble as an “adjustment” although opponents say he’s dressing up a labour scarcity as a golden alternative for staff to extend their wages.

But proscribing immigration quantities to a generational change within the United Kingdom’s financial coverage, proper after the pandemic triggered a ten% contraction in 2020, the worst in additional than 300 years.

As the EU expanded eastward after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, Britain and different main European economies welcomed tens of millions of migrants from nations like Poland, which joined the bloc in 2004.

No-one actually is aware of how many individuals got here: in mid-2021, the British authorities stated it had obtained greater than 6 million purposes from EU nationals for settlement, greater than double the quantity it believed have been within the nation in 2016.

After Brexit, the federal government stopped giving precedence to EU residents over individuals from elsewhere.

Brexit prompted many jap European staff – together with round 25,000 truckers – to depart the nation simply as round 40,000 truck licence exams have been halted because of the pandemic.

Britain is now in need of about 100,000 truckers, resulting in queues at fuel stations and worries about getting meals into supermarkets, with an absence of butchers and warehouse staff additionally inflicting concern.

“Wages will have to go up, so prices for everything we deliver, everything you buy on the shelves, will have to go up too,” stated Craig Holness, a British trucker with 27 years expertise.

Wages have already soared: a heavy items car (HGV) Class 1 driver job was being marketed for 75,000 kilos ($102,500) every year, the best the recruiter had ever heard of.


The Bank of England stated final month that CPI inflation was set to rise to 4% late this yr, “owing largely to developments in energy and goods prices”, and that the case for elevating rates of interest from historic lows appeared to have strengthened.

It cited proof that “recruitment difficulties had become more widespread and acute”, which the Bank’s brokers had attributed “to a combination of factors, including demand recovering more quickly than expected and a reduction in the availability of EU workers”.

Johnson’s ministers have repeatedly dismissed the concept that Britain is heading for a “winter of discontent” like that which helped Thatcher to energy in 1979, with spiralling wage calls for, inflation and energy shortages – and even that Brexit is issue.

“Our country has been running at a comparatively low rate of wage growth for a long time – basically stagnant wages and totally stagnant productivity – and that is because, chronically, we have failed to invest in people, we have failed to invest in equipment and you’ve seen wages flat,” Johnson stated on Sunday.

But he didn’t clarify how wage stagnation and poor productiveness could be solved by a combination of decrease immigration and better wages that gas inflation which eats into actual wages.

It was additionally unclear how greater costs would have an effect on an economic system that’s consumer-driven and more and more reliant on provide chains whose tentacles wind throughout Europe and past.

For some observers, the United Kingdom has come full-circle: it joined the European membership within the Seventies because the sick man of Europe and its exit, many European politicians clearly hope, will lead it again right into a cautionary dead-end.

Johnson’s legacy will rely upon proving them flawed.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Catherine Evans

Signs outside a Tesco petrol station that has run out of fuel, are pictured in Hemel Hempstead, Britain, October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Childs/File Photo

A sign informing customers that fuel has run out is pictured at a Esso fuel station in London, Britain, October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

A sign informing customers that fuel has run out is pictured at a Shell fuel station in London, Britain, October 2, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo