BBC Journalist Points Out Why Food Shortages Aren’t Just About Brexit

Ros Atkins dismantled the growing fears around empty supermarket shelves.
Food shortages in the UK have become a pressing concern in recent months
Food shortages in the UK have become a pressing concern in recent months
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

Food shortages in the UK are becoming a pressing concern so BBC journalist Ros Atkins unpicked all of the causes behind it on Friday, including Brexit and Covid.

The problem can be traced back to a national lorry driver shortage, which leads to distribution delays up and down the country. The Road Haulage Association claims there are currently 90,000 job vacancies in the industry.

However the exact reasons behind the lack of drivers remain unclear.

Brexit is partially responsible

Many have blamed the shortages on the UK’s departure from the EU. The Road Haulage Association said 58% of its members blamed Brexit, while Transport Intelligence said: “Brexit effectively ended recruitment from the EU, making it legally impossible to recruit foreign HGV drivers.”

Trade expert David Henig tweeted: “A word missing from the UK debates on lorry driver shortages, Brexit, etc...resilience. If you leave a larger unit/raise the barriers then you may be more vulnerable to shock.”

Transport Intelligence’s Nick Bailey also said: “There’s a bit of reluctance among mainland European carriers to even come into the UK because costs are unbalanced, it’s difficult for them to know that they’ll have a load to go back with, the Brexit bureaucracy is a part of it and then Covid as well.”

Speaking on his programme ‘Outside Source With Ros Atkins’, the journalist summarised: “Brexit is not the primary cause for the initial drop in numbers, but Brexit has complicated how the UK handles this shock.”

It can’t just be Brexit – EU nations are suffering too

Atkins pointed out there were 40,000 EU drivers in the UK at the start of the pandemic – 15,000 of them have now left, which is clearly a significant portion.

But the Office of National Statistics shows 50,000 UK workers have moved away from the lorry driver profession. That’s a drop which is three times greater than the shortage in EU drivers.

He added: ”Those EU drivers who did leave could have stayed.”

Government schemes included settled and pre-settled status enabled EU citizens to stay safely in the UK after Brexit.

Atkins continued: “They may have left indirectly because of Brexit, but they didn’t have to. They may have left because of Covid, or other reasons.”

He noted that while the UK has quite a high number of driver shortages, Poland, an EU member state, actually has more vacancies at 120,000.

Other European nations – including France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark – are suffering, too.

The UK could be facing the same issue as Poland

BBC Warsaw correspondent Adam Easton added that there’s a shortage of young lorry drivers in Poland because they prefer to be local delivery drivers.

He said: “They say there are not enough incentives to attract younger Polish drivers and it’s expensive to obtain a licence.

“Rather than spend weeks on the road abroad, younger drivers prefer to stay closer to home for increasingly popular courier services.”

Haulage companies are reporting issues with finding drivers
Haulage companies are reporting issues with finding drivers
TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images

Covid means fewer people have trained as drivers

The journalist also noted that Covid restrictions have prevented people from taking HGV driving tests over the past year, which could account for some of the shortages.

Atkins did not touch on the “pingdemic”, which was blamed for much of the shortfall during the first few months of cutbacks. Many blamed the crisis on the number of lorry drivers who were told to self-isolate by the Test and Trace app after being in contact with a positive Covid case.

However, now the government has reduced the sensitivity of the app, it’s believed far fewer people are being instructed to self-isolate.

Global factors

Atkins also pointed to the “US-China trade tensions” which have rumbled on over the last few years which may be having a knock-on effect for the British market.

He explained: “Brexit is changing the UK’s economy but the world’s economy is changing at the same time.”

Morningstar investment manager Dan Kemp also told the BBC: “This all speaks to this new trend we’re seeing which is a partial reversal of the globalisation that has dominated the last 20 years, that has kept prices low as supply chains have been optimised, globalised.

“As that started to break down over the last couple of years, we’ve seen more of these symptoms emerge.”


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