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Post-Brexit Britain faces a difficult winter

Empty shelves that usually stock bottled water at Sainsbury’s supermarket, Greenwich Peninsular, on September 19, 2021 in London, England.

Chris J Ratcliffe | Getty Images

The U.K. has emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic to find itself faced with an onslaught of new economic crises that have left the country in “a precarious position,” experts have warned.

A perfect storm of labor shortages, skyrocketing natural gas prices and global supply chain constraints have put the country in prime position for a difficult winter. Rising demand as economies reopen has created similar problems all over the world, but economists argue that Brexit has exacerbated these issues for Britain.

Labor shortages

A lack of workers is affecting a slew of industries across the country.

Britain has an estimated shortage of 100,000 truck drivers, which haulage organizations have largely attributed to a post-Brexit exodus of EU nationals. The lack of truck drivers has disrupted deliveries, leading to empty store shelves, backlogs at ports and dry gas stations, which sparked a panic buying frenzy in September that lasted weeks.

Other sectors have also warned of deepening labor shortages that are expected to damage the availability and price of goods in the runup to Christmas.

Britain’s National Pig Association has warned that up to 120,000 pigs face being culled within weeks because of a lack of butchers and abattoir workers.

In a statement on Friday, the vice president of the U.K.’s National Union of Farmers said labor shortages across the food supply chain remained acute, while the CEO of the U.K. Warehousing Association said in September that industries including warehousing, engineering and transport were all experiencing severe worker shortages.

At the end of September, the Confederation of British Industry — which represents 190,000 businesses — said its latest data showed 70% of companies were planning pay rises in a bid to tackle labor shortages.

The U.K. government has issued thousands of temporary visas for truck drivers, butchers and agricultural workers, but some critics have argued that this is insufficient to lure foreign workers.

Risk to future growth

Spending power threatened

In a note on Thursday, Credit Suisse economists warned that U.K. consumers “face headwinds in the next few months,” including elevated inflation, supply shortages and the tightening of monetary policy.

“We think real disposable incomes for the U.K. consumer can fall by about 1.5% in 2022, the biggest fall since 2011,” the note’s authors predicted.

Helen Dickinson, head of the British Retail Consortium, told ITV News Thursday that three in five CEOs said they would have to raise prices by the end of the year due to supply chain problems. Some 10% said they had already done so.

Charalambos Pissouros, head of research at JFD Group, said he believed panic buying and supply shortages in the U.K. might also impact spending power by damaging sterling’s value.

“I see the risk surrounding the future of the British pound as tilted to the downside,” he told CNBC. “How severe any further tumble may be depends on how long the situation stays unresolved. Quick responses like the involvement of the British military could restore economic performance sooner than thought and halt sterling’s fall, and this could also allow the Bank of England to proceed freely with its tightening plans.”

Government response to crises ‘alarming’

Read More: Post-Brexit Britain faces a difficult winter

2021-10-18 03:00:25

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