Blame Lockdown – Not Brexit – For Shortages

There’s a good piece in UnHerd today by macroeconomist Philip Pilkington who argues that lockdown – not Brexit – is to blame for the lack of drivers that is causing shortages of petrol and other goods. He draws attention to the fact that the Government’s lockdown policies drove foreign workers back to their home countries (often because “the dole is better where they came from on the Continent”) and stunted the process of old lorry drivers being replied with new ones. Here is an extract.

People are quick to blame whatever political topic is at the top of their mind, and Brexit is an enormously popular choice – and no prizes for guessing why. But domestic concerns are unlikely to explain the shortages and inflation, as the international statistics show. Britain may have had Brexit, but the United States certainly did not – and a bottle of whiskey for anyone who can explain to me how the euro area could leave the European Union.

The driver of the immediate trends seems to be a lack of actual drivers – truck drivers, in particular. Where did they all go? Once again, the stuffed Brexit bear is wheeled out – but he is not very scary. Foreign labour was not scared out of Britain due to an abstract legal change; it was driven out by the Government’s lockdown policies in response to the pandemic, which shuffled many from their jobs onto a souped-up dole. Many realised that the dole is better where they came from on the Continent, especially relative to the cost of living, and so they left.

Data published by the ONS shows this clearly. Between January and April 2019 – when Brexit was but months away – around 200,000 visa applications were being registered in Britain. In January and February 2020, after Brexit had happened, these numbers held up. But in March and April, as the lockdown set in, they collapsed to zero. European citizens making applications for the E.U. Settlement Scheme collapsed, too, from around 350,000 in January 2020 to around 50,000 in April. It wasn’t Brexit.

The truck driver shortage is hitting my home country of Ireland too – a nation that not only stayed in the E.U., but has spent the last few years reminding everyone who will listen that they stayed in the E.U.

On top of the exodus caused by lockdown restrictions, the lockdown also delayed the process of replacing those drivers with new ones. So if you apply for a driving test today, you will not get a date for at least six months. Given that many people fail the first time around, it is not unreasonable to say that it could take up to a year to get a licence in today’s Britain – more if you add on the time it takes to do lessons. This has led to a shortage of new drivers.

Worth reading in full.

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