Last Christmas was effectively cancelled by Boris Johnson and his cohort of incompetent ministers. Johnson had promised that this would not happen but, as with most of his “guarantees”, he unashamedly reneged. This Christmas may well be completely ruined as well.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which had been brought under a semblance of control over the summer of 2020 (despite Priti Patel’s open border approach) was once again ripping through the population and totally out of control by the late autumn. The government had tried to hide behind their seemingly now-abandoned mantra that they are just ‘following the science’. This didn’t ring true with the British public, as just weeks before Johnson had promised to pause lockdown for the coming festive period – against the advice of many of the country’s top scientists advising the government at the time.
What upset the great British public wasn’t the fact that the rules prevented families from meeting up for a traditional Christmas. No. We British are a pragmatic bunch. When the chips are down, we pull together for the good of everyone. Indeed, when loved ones were dying, we resisted the urge to make contact and share comfort. When friends and relatives died, many people were unable to attend the funerals as numbers were strictly controlled. The public accepted this painful necessity. What they could not stomach was Johnson performing yet another U-turn just a few days before Christmas.
Everyone’s Christmas plans had been ruined and families were unable to reunite. For some this would mean that they would never see their loved ones again. Had the government closed our borders and kept control of the pandemic, we might well have been able to celebrate with minimal disruption. Failing the implementation of those measures, we would have been resigned to a ‘lockdown Christmas’ if only the government had been able to resist putting the idea of being able to get together on the table in the first place…
This whole sorry episode would have brought down most governments; however, Johnson and his inept cabinet feel no shame so the status quo continued. Johnson was also able to play his trump card – the Covid-19 vaccines – as if he had discovered them himself, instead of them having been developed by scientists around the world, including a group based in Oxford.
In fact, whenever Johnson or any of his ministers were questioned about their catastrophic handling of the crisis, they would inevitably bring up the vaccine as if it absolved them from any and all responsibility or culpability.
But how is Johnson’s government going to ruin Christmas this year?
Quite simply, it revolves around supply chains and logistics.
We have a deficit of lorry drivers (with some putting the figure close to 100,000) which has put a great strain on our ability to transport products around the country. The reasons behind the deficit are complex and the problem has been brewing for quite some time. A lot has to do with the retention of drivers and the ability to recruit more. Poor pay is often quoted alongside poor working conditions, long hours and a poor quality of home life. Rules and regulations – most notable IR35, which has forced agency drivers to pay more tax – have also often been quoted as a disincentive to remain in the job.
As a full-time lorry driver, I see much of this. My wage as a removals driver is on a par with teenagers pouring coffees at Starbucks or stacking shelves at Aldi. I have to sleep in my lorry (when working away) which is parked at service stations (when there is a space available). This costs around £30 per night. Food at service stations is limited usually to fast food or (if still open) unhealthy canteen style food, with very limited choice. Hygiene can also be an issue for us; I will spare you the details or examples!
These driver issues are nothing new and have been steadily building up over the years but what has tipped it over the edge quite simply is that EU drivers have gone home (an estimated 25,000). Whether this is due to the pandemic or Brexit (probably a bit of both) is a moot point. The fact is that they are no longer here helping to deliver our goods. Eric Gates has written about the impact on supply chains from a technical aspect in this readable guide.
Lobby groups for the retail and transport industries have written jointly to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warning the impact on supply chains is getting worse. To resolve the problem the groups are asking for a review of the policy of not granting temporary work visas to drivers from the EU.
To date the government are refusing to reverse the policy, saying:
“The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.”
The trouble with this is that the problems are here now, and no amount of training and investing in the domestic workforce is going to save Christmas. You also have to ask where are these domestic workers going to come from? Realistically it will be the service sectors and agriculture, both of which are suffering from a shortfall of staff as it is. Just moving the problem around from sector to sector is not the answer, as Russ in Cheshire explains.
You may be thinking that a shortage of Brussels sprouts and pigs in blankets is no real hardship; however, the damage to the supply chain will be much more profound and hit us all in many different and potentially dangerous ways. For instance, there has already been a catastrophic shortage of blood bottles needed for blood testing. As a result, GP surgeries and hospitals are having to prioritise and ration tests. It seems that Global Britain is slipping into third world territory and Christmas is going to be a sorry if not deadly affair this year.
So what is the Johnson-led government’s response?
They are not minded to alleviate the logistics problem with temporary visas as this would be yet another U-turn and may not fill the gap in time.
So that leaves them with no choice but to ruin Christmas for the second year in a row. The trouble is that their go-to, issue-deflecting mantra about the vaccine rollout is starting to lose its gloss. It has been over-used and, besides, many countries in the EU have actually overtaken us with their own programmes.
Johnson increasingly has nowhere to hide and his much-vaunted Brexit promises are turning out to be as empty as supermarket shelves.
This is why the government are now actually daring to lay the blame at the feet of all those who voted for Brexit. They are banking on this tactic working out for them as they gamble on the public contracting some form of Stockholm syndrome and group amnesia.
We would do well to remember that Johnson and most of his cabinet were instrumental in the vote leave campaign. Michael Gove, for instance, pooh-poohed the suggestion of food shortages In an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr in September 2019:
Leaving the single market and the customs union was always going to cause major obstacles but this has been compounded by the government’s incompetent implementation of their ‘oven-ready’ deal and their failure to plan ahead. Given that ministers had knowledge of Operation Yellowhammer, the country should never have got into this terrible state. Operation Yellowhammer was the government’s contingency plan for dealing with the most severe anticipated short-term disruption under a no-deal Brexit – known as its ‘reasonable worst case’ scenario.
The plan covered 12 key areas of risk, including food and water supplies, healthcare services, trade in goods and transport systems. Since Johnson’s deal was only a whisker away from no deal in terms of impact, Yellowhammer should have been fully operational.
It is both cowardly and deeply dishonest of Chicken Johnson to try to pin the blame on the British public, but it’s not exactly out of character, is it?