Brexit made UK’s supply crisis worse than in EU, says French minister

Britain struggling to access labour after quitting one of world’s big economic powers, says finance chief

Adam Forrest
Friday 15 October 2021 13:07

Related video: How suppliers are struggling with labour shortages in post-Brexit Britain

The UK’s supply chain problems have been much more intense than those suffered in the EU because of Brexit, a senior French minister has said.

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said the UK could not adapt to labour shortages as well as countries on the continent because it quit the single market and no longer enjoyed free movement.

“We are facing the same situation,” said Le Maire on supply issues in France. “But the fact that we are a member of a very important single market helps us facing these bottlenecks.”

Speaking to the BBC after the G7 meeting in Washington, Le Maire said France was coping better with because of its membership in the EU.

“I think it [the single market] is helping us because we can have access to other job markets. When you are asking for some more people in restaurants, in hotels, for truck drivers, for instance, you have access to other labour markets.”

Le Maire held talks chancellor Rishi Sunak and other G7 finance ministers in the US capital this week – where major powers discussed co-operation on global supply chain issues and ways to reduce dependence on China and east Asia.

“We share the same values within the G7 … we share the same approach on the economic issues on trade, so building these new value chains, among partners and among friends might be one of the solutions,” he said.

But in pointed remarks, Le Maire claimed the UK had chosen to reduce its clout on the international stage by leaving one the world’s three big economic powers.

“I don’t want to criticise the British approach because this [Brexit] is the sovereign choice made by the British people,” said the senior figure in Emmanuel Macron’s government.

“But you know, when you have a careful look at the current world situation, you have in the right side, the United States, on the other side, the rise of China, then there is one single place left – and this will not be for the UK. This will be for Europe. Let’s be clear about that.”

Boris Johnson’s government continues to claim supply issues are a global problem as Britain suffers from empty shelves in the supermarket, disruption to fuel supply and a backlog at ports.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps claimed on Friday that “our supply chain is pretty robust” – but could not guarantee there would not be shortages in the run-up to Christmas.

The cabinet minister also claimed the country’s problems would not be solved by returning to uncontrolled immigration – but was accused of hypocrisy by the organisation representing lorry drivers.

Shapps has announced emergency plans to lift the limit on the number of deliveries foreign lorry drivers can make in the UK for up to six months. But the Road Haulage Association (RHA) complained that it would undercut British drivers.

“Allowing overseas companies and drivers to come over for perhaps up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers,” said the RHA’s Rod McKenzie.

The haulage boss added: “The government has been talking about … not pulling the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’ … this is exactly what it looks like.”

Olaf Scholz, the man set to replace Angela Merkel as German chancellor, also recently suggested Brexit was a factor in the particular acute supply issues experienced in the UK.

“The free movement of labour is part of the European Union,” said the SPD leader last month. “We worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the union. Now they decided different and I hope they will manage the problems coming from that.”

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