‘The kingdom of empty shelves’: European newspapers blame Brexit for UK supply chain crisis

Continent’s press liken situation to 1970s Winter of Discontent and ‘boycotted Cuba’

Tim Wyatt
Friday 24 September 2021 15:43 BST

Related video: Tesco warns food shortages will lead to Christmas panic buying if crisis isn’t solved

Britain’s growing fuel and supply chain crisis – which has seen petrol stations closed, empty restaurants and supermarket shelves and the government forced to subsidise carbon dioxide production – has provoked significant comment in European newspapers.

While the government has insisted the problems are largely caused by the pandemic, much of the media on the continent is pointing the finger at Brexit.

The front page of the French outlet Liberation featured a finished roll of toilet paper with the final sheet emblazoned with “Brexit”, above the headline “The future that failed to deliver”.

“Labour shortages, disrupted logistics chains, missing products, departures of European citizens...,” the paper wrote.

“With the gradual end of the Covid crisis, the United Kingdom begins to see in concrete terms the consequences of its exit from the European Union.”

The German magazine Der Spiegel’s coverage of the issue was headlined: “In the kingdom of empty shelves” and warned supply bottlenecks could become even more drastic.

“After Brexit, migrant workers from Eastern Europe are no longer welcome in the UK. And so the country is now missing 100,000 truck drivers – and goods,” the outlet wrote.

The Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia compared the empty shelves, closed KFCs, fruit rotting in the field and empty vending machines to “the boycotted Cuba”.

“Brexit and the pandemic have contributed to exacerbating a problem that has been brewing for a long time, and it is rooted in the low wages traditionally received by truckers,” the newspaper reported.

“Due to Brexit and the devaluation of the pound, 14,000 [drivers] from Eastern Europe have returned to their countries of origin because they did not feel welcome and because of bureaucratic obstacles to travel.”

In an article on their website, Germany’s public TV station ARD said Britons were facing a perfect storm of high fuel prices, the expiration of the pandemic boost to benefit payments and higher food prices in supermarkets.

It likened the situation to the infamous Winter of Discontent from 1978-79, when hardship caused by crippling strikes ultimately brought down the government of the day.

A similar theme ran through the coverage in Spain’s El Pais, which said not since the “ominous decade of the seventies” had Europe’s second largest economy struggled with such shortages.

New, tougher post-Brexit immigration rules were preventing European workers who left the UK during the pandemic from easily returning to their jobs, the paper said.

“The Johnson government is reluctant to admit that its main political achievement, Brexit, may cause irreparable damage, at least in the medium term, to the country’s economy. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s response, with a harsh speech on immigration, is for employers to strive to train and hire British citizens.”

An online news site in Italy told its readers the traditional English Christmas dinner was now under threat because of the rise in gas prices “caused by Brexit”.

“The traditional Christmas dinner is at risk in England, where the British will have to contend with a shortage of meat on the supermarket shelves,” the report from fanpage.it said.

“All of this can be traced back to Brexit: with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, gas has undergone such an increase in prices as to force the closure of two large fertilizer-producing plants in the country.”

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