Analysis: Brexit cold turkey – UK tries to kick 25-year imported labour habit

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LONDON, Oct 5 (Reuters) – The UK’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 value rises.

Leaving the European Union, adopted by the chaos of the most important public well being disaster in a century, has plunged the world’s fifth-largest financial system right into a sudden try and kick its habit 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 every part from pork and poultry to medicines and milk.

Wages, and thus costs, must rise.

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

“What I will not do is return to the previous failed mannequin of low wages, low abilities, supported by uncontrolled immigration,” Johnson, 57, mentioned when requested in regards to the shortages.

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

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

“Taking again management” of immigration was a key message of the Brexit marketing campaign, which the Johnson-led “Go away” 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 employees to extend their wages.

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

Because the EU expanded eastward after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, Britain and different main European economies welcomed thousands and thousands 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 mentioned it had obtained greater than 6 million functions 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 folks from elsewhere.

Brexit prompted many japanese European employees – together with round 25,000 truckers – to go away the nation simply as round 40,000 truck licence checks have been halted because of the pandemic.

Britain is now wanting about 100,000 truckers, resulting in queues at fuel stations and worries about getting meals into supermarkets, with a scarcity of butchers and warehouse employees additionally inflicting concern.

“Wages must go up, so costs for every part we ship, every part you purchase on the cabinets, must go up too,” mentioned 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 Financial institution of England mentioned final month that CPI inflation was set to rise to 4% late this yr, “owing largely to developments in vitality and items costs”, and that the case for elevating rates of interest from historic lows appeared to have strengthened.

It cited proof that “recruitment difficulties had turn into extra widespread and acute”, which the Financial institution’s brokers had attributed “to a mix of things, together with demand recovering extra shortly than anticipated and a discount within the availability of EU employees”.

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 nation has been operating at a relatively low charge of wage development for a very long time – mainly stagnant wages and completely stagnant productiveness – and that’s as a result of, chronically, we now have didn’t put money into folks, we now have didn’t put money into gear and you have seen wages flat,” Johnson mentioned on Sunday.

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

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

For some observers, the UK 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 on proving them improper.

Reporting by Man Faulconbridge; Modifying by Catherine Evans


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