It is almost a year since the United Kingdom formally left the European Union as the Brexit agreement kicked in, the culmination of years of campaigning by Eurosceptics against the imposition of European values and law on the sovereignty of Westminster.
Leaving the EU was always going to be a difficult decision, and the wrangling over the divorce terms after 45 years of legal, political, and social integration through the Brussels-administered framework with the other 26 member states continues.
That Brexit took full effect during a global pandemic, where the economies of the world were placed in hibernation because of the need for distancing and isolation, have certainly exacerbated the negative effects of Brexit.
Before Brexit, economists and researchers had predicted that Brexit itself would negatively impact the UK economic with a hit of some 8 per cent to national GDP. That may well indeed have been the case, but the actual impact was rolled into the effects of Covid-19, where the British economy suffered its worst statistical decline since in more than three centuries.
What is clear is ending the free movement of people and tightening British immigration policies has had a negative effect that still is causing labour shortages in critical sectors of the UK economy.
Global supply chain shortages have been felt at varying levels around the world and in the EU itself. However, post-Brexit Britain has been hit hardest, culminating in a shortage of lorry drivers. That has meant fuel shortages at petrol stations in September, a shortage of goods across broad sectors of the economy, and less staff now to work in areas where the pay was lower or the hours antisocial.
The government’s answer to staff shortages has been to alter immigration policies to entice workers from the EU to return on temporary visas to drive trucks, pick fruit and vegetables in farmers’ fields, or to take up work caring for the elderly and long-term infirm in Britain’s care homes. With each appeal for foreign workers that is also a tacit admission that the shortage stems from ending the supply of lower-paid workers that benefited from the free movement of people.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to Brexit remains the lingering fissure that exists between Northern Ireland, which remains inside the EU’s customs zone, with England, Scotland, and Wales outside. Political tensions are at their highest levels in decades in Belfast — a clear indication that Brexit is far from concluded.