Reading Christopher John’s account of the working conditions of HGV drivers in the UK (‘Getting into Europe is a relief every time’: an HGV driver reflects on UK crisis, 27 September), I was struck by the fact that I had no idea how bad they are. If we weren’t in the middle of a Brexit-induced driver shortage, I probably still wouldn’t.
The exodus of European workers has created a vacuum in the form of a labour shortage. From that space, a national discussion that foregrounds both the voices and interests of working-class people has emerged. There have been lots of references to this as an unexpected or ironic benefit of Brexit. This is beyond patronising. British HGV drivers were a largely pro-Brexit demographic. Now, their wages are going up and drivers’ concerns are being represented in a newspaper as staunchly pro-remain as the Guardian. This is not an unexpected consequence. This is them getting what they voted for.
Of course, this could have been achieved without such a damaging act of national sabotage as Brexit. But this is beside the point. The point is that it wouldn’t have been. I think lots of leave voters intuited that the chaos caused by Brexit would force a shift in the political landscape, one that ended the chronic underrepresentation of their interests. Those of us who assumed that working-class leave voters didn’t understand what they were doing owe them an apology.
Amid the labour shortages in haulage and agriculture, food supply and other sectors, it’s worth noting that Brexiters don’t seem to have realised that by cutting off freedom of movement, they have at a stroke cut off a large and flexible reserve pool of workers in many sectors, not forgetting the NHS and care sector.
This was like an overdraft facility, allowing fluctuations in worker availability to be spread across the EU. We now find our “cheques” for UK haulier and agricultural workers are “bouncing”, with no overdraft reserve to tide us over the peak demand. By boxing ourselves into a corner with the Conservatives’ “red lines”, we now find that we are frequently hitting the limits, and demand cannot be met solely from UK workers.
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