Lifestyle & Culture

Brexit Diary: ‘Wait, no one told us that was going to happen’ (Actually, they did)

Though it’s only been five years, it seems like the Brexit referendum took place several lifetimes ago, so we’ve forgotten most of the early details. But back in 2015 and 2016, brave Brexiteers Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and, yes, Boris Johnson were leading us to the Elysian Fields of a United Kingdom freed from the velvet tyranny of the European Union.

A few business leaders and economists tried to inject reality into the Brexit debate with warnings about the huge dent Brexit would put in the UK’s economy, but they were quickly shouted off the stage with cries of “Remoaners!” and “Operation Fear!”

Alas, business people operation on objective analysis and empirical data while Brexiteers were selling a feel-good return to Britain’s glorious past … which turned out to be the stiff upper lip England of shortages and sacrifice that followed World War II.

It wasn’t too difficult to see even in 2016 that Brexit was going to be not so much a right turn to greatness as a detour to disaster … confirmed when the people who financed Brexit, including billionaire industrialist James Dyson, pulled up sticks and moved bases of operation either to the EU or Asia.

So, we’ve created a new post documenting the glory as unrelenting waves of greatness wash over the British Isles:

• Leaving the borderless European Union has resulted in a huge hit to tourism to the United Kingdom, according to CNN. While tourism in France, Greece and other destinations is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels, tourists are avoiding the UK like, well, the plague.

“Visitor numbers to the UK plummeted from 40.9 million in 2019 to 11.1 million in 2020 — a dip of 73 percent,” according the CNN post. The numbers for 2021 promise to be worse, a double gut-punch of Brexit changes in visa rules and inconsistent COVID travel restrictions.

It’s come to a showdown. Multiple media sources are reporting the Johnson government is on the verge of triggering Article 16 in the final withdrawal plan. Article 16 allows the UK (or the EU) to reject the original agreement stipulation – the Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol means Northern Ireland, though it’s part of the United Kingdom, essentially remains part of the European Union as the gateway for goods coming into the Republic of Ireland. That protocol meant border checks for goods going into Northern Ireland from the UK, which don’t actually exist yet in any meaningful way.

But Boris Johnson and his Brexit minister David Frost demand that the European Court of Justice be excluded from regulatory roles in the Protocol, with checks and paperwork waived for goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland.

If the UK triggers Article 16 and voids the Northern Ireland Protocol, it could lead to a larger Brexit crisis with the EU. It would also put a huge dent in the UK’s international reputation for following rule of law if Johnson pulls a “Treaty? What treaty?” ploy to a settlement the Brits agreed to years ago.

As the BBC notes, far right pro-Britain elements in Northern Ireland hate what they consider a compromise of their Britishness and are ready to restart “The Troubles,” the religion-based paramilitary conflicts that cost of thousands of lives before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Before we wade too deeply into what is a mind-numbingly nuanced and technical diplomatic crisis, the worst-case scenario is … well, no one knows because there’s no precedent. But it’s clear the UK ends up even more isolated than it is today, with all trade with the EU grinding to a halt.

The BBC has the details if you have an hour to spend … and a stiff whisky to ease you through.

• So what will happen if the UK triggers Article 16? No one knows, and that includes Prime Minister Boris Johnson, never one for details. Dominic Cummings, former Johnson senior advisor and the guy who made Brexit possible with his understanding of social media, is now confirming what everyone suspected all along – Boris Johnson had no clue what leaving the EU customs union would mean for the UK. Cummings, who turned on Johnson after the PM canned him back in 2020 over breaking COVID regulations, blogs about insider details, iNews reports.

On his blog, Cummings revealed Lord Frost explained in October 2020 – four years after the Brexit vote – what would happen; Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market while the rest of the UK is out. “The PM’s face was priceless. He sat back in his chair and looked around the room with appalled disbelief and shook his head.”

Oops.

So who has benefits from Brexit? Estonia. The NYTimes has a post about the thousands of UK-based companies that have created secondary legal registrations in the Baltic EU member country in order to keep doing business in the EU. That includes a fair number who have physically relocated, according to the Times. More than 4,000 British firms have helped to increase Estonia’s tax revenues by 60 percent compared to 2020, according to Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

• Is pressure mounting for a Brexit Exit? The Daily Mail, one of the British tabloids that actively advocated for Brexit (and still portrays anything European as evil) buried the results of its own poll that found that only 36 percent of Brits would vote to leave the European Union today compared to 52 per cent in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

An earlier poll found that a majority see Brexit as a failure. Media reports state that it’s difficult to find anyone from fishermen to shelf stockers who feels they personally benefited from Brexit, and many who feel their personal finances and quality of life have diminished since the UK parted ways with the world’s largest trade union. Just this week, the British music industry, which has produced mega-stars from the Beatles to Dua Lipa, warned again that barriers to performing in Europe are killing a business that depends on touring now that Apple, Spotify and other music services keep most of the profits from recording sales.

Even the staid Wall Street journal has a new post about the U.K. being left behind in a global upswing in trade, “an early sign of the challenge Brexit is presenting its economy.” When people’s lives get worse, political parties seize on the other party’s mistakes. The question is does that mean a new movement to undo Brexit is coming?

• Brexit is so popular that the Brexit Festival, funded by the Johnson government, has deleted “Brexit” from its name, rebranding as “Unboxed.” Hardcore Brexiteers are over the moon that a celebration of the “rebirth of the UK as an independent nation” is now just an event where we’ll all learn to grow our own Brexit Gardens since we can expect no food from The Continent.

• Brexit was supposed to make Britain Eurorein, cleansed of all the Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles. Alas, getting rid of the people with actual practical skills such as butchers and slaughterhouse workers so worthy Englishmen could have their jobs has not turned out well. Apparently, those worthy Englishmen wanted no part of working in blood up to their ankles. So the UK is creating a new short-stay visa for butchers and people to work in abattoirs.

• If you thought Brexit was just about taking back control and getting rid of all the annoying Eastern Europeans who did all the work, well … how wrong you were! It turns out that Brexit was about creating a completely new United Kingdom! At the Conservative Party’s big celebratory conference 6 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his vision of a New Britain, a high-wage, high-skilled, high-productivity “and, yes, thereby a low-tax economy,” according to Sky News. Johnson’s New Britain will not depend on cheap foreign labor. That is the change Brits voted for in the 2016 Brexit referendum, Boris said. To which more than a few Brexiteers replied, “Wait … what?” Several including pro-Leave Richard Walker, managing director of supermarket chain Iceland, wondered if Johnson had noticed – or cared – that British businesses are getting hit by multiple trends including supply chain collapse and rising energy costs.

Ironically, on the day of Johnson’s “highly skilled Britain” speech, Silicon Valley chipmaker Intel announced it will not consider the UK for a new plant because of Brexit. Intel is investing up to $95 billion (70 billion pounds) on opening and upgrading semiconductor plants in Europe over the next 10 years, according to the BBC.

• One of the most insightful ways of understanding the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit woes is skipping the Economist and the Times of London and going straight for the right-wing tabloids. Which are increasingly harsh in their coverage of mounting economic woes. Between stories about beauty queen divorcees, cheating movie stars and royal wags, the Mail Online has a post, “Business chiefs accuse Boris of using them as a bogeyman,” that is a fair and objective appraisal of business leaders’ concerns and criticisms. By the way, that’s not the real title. The real title is a seven-deck headline that’s longer than some novels. But we digress … the Daily Mail takes a detailed look at Britain’s commercial class’s less than enthusiastic of Boris Johnson’s policies, proposed tax hikes and ongoing crises and fuel shortages. Johnson’s vision is the UK’s economy based on high wages, high skills and high growth. Business leaders want low taxes, possibly none for the rich, while Johnson has said “leveling up” Britain after the pandemic will require raising taxes.

However, if the wealthy – who benefit most from this vision – pay no taxes, the UK has no budget for investment in its workforce. Or in healthcare and social services. Or or in training good, stout Englishmen (not those bloody immigrants) to drive the trucks to deliver all the haute couture the residents of Knightsbridge order on FarFetch. The post includes slightly panicky concerns about access to labor from pro-Leave CEOs who are suddenly flummoxed by the disappearance of the all the Poles and Romanians.

See more here on Politico about Boris’s plan to raise taxes, which we guarantee you will not go over well with the tabloids.

• The Express, which defines English chauvinism, has investigative posts digging deep into the outrage over the pain Brexit has caused English retirees living in France and Spain and beseeching Boris Johnson to just do something. It seems that once the UK left the EU, British citizens in the EU became the targets of local authorities enforcing local laws. Which The Express defines as relentless persecution, forcing British expats to get, for example, Spanish license plates for the cars or Spanish health insurance. The situation in France is even more extreme. “Thousands of British expats left in ‘precarious situation’ by French residence rules” documents how those who didn’t bother to apply for long-term residence permits are now considered outlaws.

No!

• A mere nine months into its liberation from the European Union, the United Kingdom is finding that Brexit was exactly the wrong idea at exactly the worst time. Instead of the sun never setting on robust new trade deals around the globe, the UK has managed to entice exactly one new trading partner, Norway. Now, British citizens will have unlimited access to rakfisk. But the big deal with the United States the Brexiteers including Boris Johnson promised – worth an estimated 200 billion pounds – isn’t going to happen. At least not while Joe Biden is the US president. As British Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: “It’s just not a priority” for Biden. Could that be because Biden isn’t stupid and understands that $800 billion in trade with the EU, and therefore with Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and other economic giants, is a priority? And by the way, British exports to the Republic of Ireland fell by 2.5 billion pounds this year, according to the BBC.

• After kicking out all those lazy Europeans, there are now plans afoot to bring them back. Food and Drink Federation boss Ian Wright is supporting the Seasonal Workers Pilot to create 30,000 visas for workers to come to the UK for up to six months to solve the delivery truck driver shortage crisis. Oh, and that Britain goes-it-alone approach of Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg and other hardline Brexiteers appears to have lost out to reality. British officials have agreed to spend millions ot restart an American carbon dioxide plant that’s crucial to food production. CF Fertilizer had shut down British operations due to the high price of natural gas. CF Fertilizer’s CO2 is used to “stun animals before slaughter, preserve fruits and vegetables before packaging and put the fizz into carbonated beverages,” according to US News and World Report.

Supply chain issues related to Brexit restrictions are so bad that Bonfire Night celebration will be muted because there aren’t enough fireworks, according to City A.M. That’s because fireworks from China come to the UK via ports in the EU. They didn’t put that on the side of a bus, did they?

• If there is any good Brexit news, it’s that – along with blue passports – the imperial system is making a comeback in the UK over the metric system. It will no longer be required that packaging/labeling include metric measurements, according to The Conversation. Of course, the problem is, an imperial gallon in the UK isn’t the same as a US gallon. And don’t get us started on how many tablespoons are in a quart.

• Those chickens … they do have a tendency to come home to roost. Some of the most adamant Brexiteers are now seeing their businesses dinged by the unintended results of closing the door to Europe. The exit of tens of thousands of people back to the Balkans and Eastern Europe has lead to labor shortages, with Britain’s supply chain struggling. That includes mega-Brexiteer Tim Martin, owner of the J. D. Wetherspoon chain of pubs, who’s having trouble getting Bud Light to his patrons because the UK is 100,000 HGV drivers short. That’s not to mention the shortage of warehouse workers and people to take up the slack in the hospitality industry.

The number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK, who used to fill lower-paid logistics and food production roles, has plunged by almost 90,000 – or 24 percent – since the end of 2019, according to the Guardian.

Now Martin and other Brexiteers are demanding Boris Johnson do something about this shocking situation and change the visa restrictions that changed with Brexit. Johnson has refused, saying all British companies have to do is just go out and recruit good British workers. Demographers say good luck with that … that the UK’s aging population is running on empty when it comes to low-skilled labor.

Now, it looks like the big Brexit payoff will be a beerless, cheerless Christmas for Brits. And Martin? Well, shame on him for not moving his business to Asia like fellow Brexiteer Jimmy Dyson. With the gates shut to the EU, Britain’s option is now, ironically, to start integrating more of the migrants arriving from the Middle East, African and Asia into the workforce. Which is doubly interesting since the fall of Afghanistan.

• Lost amid the angst over supply-chain disruptions is the effect Brexit is having on the ag sector. Which could translate into some Brits substituting fish and chips for the Christmas turkey. Companies in the UK’s poultry sector are warning there could be turkey shortages this year. The poultry industry employs more than 40,000 people but there are nearly 7,000 vacancies, according to the Guardian. That will only get worse as the industry depends on seasonal workers to put turkeys on the table, as well as chickens in the local KFC, at the holidays.

Meanwhile, the Daily Express and other right-wing British tabloids are giving their readers alternative facts about the Netherlands and Denmark suffering horribly. Take that, remoaners! Unfortunately, the stories are not even remotely true.

• The latest labor shortages have been years in the making. For decades, the United Kingdom – as part of the European Union – has relied on low-paid workers from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania to take the jobs Brits won’t do. When Dispatches was in England a few years ago, all the car washes were run by hard-working Polish entrepreneurs. Now, post-Brexit, a lot of those people have left and suddenly, there are posts on BBC, Bloomberg and other news and business websites about – get ready for it – a massive labor shortage, with more job openings in the hospitality business than at any time since record keeping began, perhaps 1.1 million.

“Is there a solution to the hospitality staff crisis?” asks a BBC headline. It turns out that Brits do not fancy 70-hour weeks for minimum wage … shocker.

The Guardian has a post, “Employers offer golden hellos of up to £10k amid worker shortage,” with the bonuses going to nurses willing to work the night shift in hospitals and care homes. So far, few takers ….

• Speaking of money, Brexit is still sorting out which city will replace London as a banking and financial transactions center post-Brexit. It looked for awhile as if Amsterdam would be the big winner. Now, London is back in the lead. Lost in the fray is the fact that Asian cities such as Singapore – where industrialist and Brexiteer James Dyson moved his operations post-Brexit – will be the ultimate Brexit winners.

From “The Conversation”:

Strikingly, we see increasing growth in Asia between 2016 and 2019 in sectors like travel, financial, IT and creative services. This includes extraordinary growth in Singapore in finance, business, insurance and pension provision, and also in China in numerous segments. It looks like nothing short of a boom.

Apparently Dyson got it just about right ….

• If there was one certainty in Brexit, it was that the United Kingdom would pay and pay bigly to leave the European Union. The final figure is 47.5 billion euros, though the Brits argue it should be less. But to everyone’s surprise, the Brits have already started paying on the installment plan.

So what would that 47.5 billion buy if it weren’t going to Brussels? Well, for starters, Boris Johnson could send a check for 8,637 euros and change to every man, woman and child in England. And let’s face it … Brexit was always about England, not the rest of the UK.

Or, the UK could use the money to pay down its 2 trillion pound debt, which represents about 84 percent of the GDP. Or it could have used the money to offset losses by British business due to leaving the world’s largest trade union. Instead, the money will go to … who knows? … making sure Victor Orbán can keep sucking off Brussel’s teat.

• UK officials are struggling to figure out how fill a shortage of 60,000 heavy goods vehicles drivers due to COVID-19 and Brexit. That shortage is causing goods to sit in warehouses instead of being delivered to store shelves. One solution could be drafting soldiers, many of whom possess HGV licences, according to the Independent.

• The Scots are not going along quietly with Brexit. The Scottish government has just posted “Damaging Legacy of Brexit,” a detailed synopsis of a major research paper done on the damage done by leaving the European Union.

That includes:

  • a dramatic drop in trade to 237.6 billion pounds for the first four months of 2021 from 266.4 billion pounds for the same period in 2018.
  • severe impact on the food and drink sector (whisky is a major export)
  • increased costs for manufacturers attributed to additional red tape and transportation costs
  • a decline in international students and research grants

Scottish officials conclude that Brexit “doing real and lasting damage to agreed and well established governance arrangements”, undermining the Scottish Parliament and giving them renewed impetus to leave the United Kingdom.

You can download a .pdf of the full 18-page research paper here.

• File this under wishful thinking … you have to wonder how the Daily Express can predict for years that Italy is leaving the EU and not lose its credibility? The latest stop-the-presses bulletin came 1 July. Far right Member of Parliament David Jones has a source deep inside the EU who’s telling him EU officials are panicked that Italy will be the next country leave. Any minute now ….

• Ending freedom of movement ended an important connection between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe – music. Now a group of 200 influential British rockers and rappers are asking the British government to create a fund to offset the additional costs for UK-based musicians to tour Europe, according to the Guardian.

The post quotes legendary Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler as noting that packing up a van and touring Europe used to be a right-of-passage for British groups just starting out. “Without immediate government action to address the bureaucratic barriers put in place since 1 January, a whole generation of musicians will simply not be able to start or continue their touring careers,” Knopfler said. The artists signing on the initiative include Radiohead, Wolf Alice and Kano. On 29 June, Brexit negotiator Lord Frost is due to give evidence to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee of the British parliament on the Johnson government’s failure to negotiate visa-free work for British performing artists.

Think about this: A 2021 version of the Beatles would have a hard time getting out of Liverpool, much less playing Hamburg.

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