Rotting from the inside

Balthasar van der Ast, Basket of Fruits, 1625 Oil on wood, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Image: WGA

“[Grimsby] voted by 70 per cent to 30 per cent for Leave. Two weeks ago, the anxious representatives of one of the town’s biggest remaining industries, seafood processing, went to Westminster to petition MPs to grant Grimsby the exceptional status of a free trade port if we leave the Single Market….

[Cornwall’s] farmers reported that fruit and veg are rotting in its fields because so many EU migrant labourers have left since the referendum…The farming industry will collapse. The hospitality industry will collapse.”

Article by Jenni Russell in The Times, 16 November, 2017

Full article

Brexit heartlands want someone else to pay

Well here’s an irony. As Brexit in whatever form gets closer, and its damaging implications for trade and jobs start to become clearer, some of the regions, industries and groups that most enthusiastically supported Leave are starting to raise the alarm about its impact or demand special exemption from its consequences.

Take Grimsby. It’s one of the most deprived areas of Britain; it hasn’t flourished in the decades since we joined the EU and it voted by 70 per cent to 30 per cent for Leave. Two weeks ago, the anxious representatives of one of the town’s biggest remaining industries, seafood processing, went to Westminster to petition MPs to grant Grimsby the exceptional status of a free trade port if we leave the Single Market.

Grimsby is desperate to avoid the imposition of post-Brexit tariff barriers, delays and customs checks on its fish business, because it imports 90 per cent of its fish fresh from Europe. It is also worried about losing the 20 per cent of its workforce that comes from abroad. If Brexit goes ahead without any special concessions to Grimsby, then an industry that includes Young’s and The Saucy Fish Co, and that employs 5,000 people, fears it will lose its competitive edge to rival centres in Germany and France.

Cornwall wants special treatment too, after rejecting the EU by 57 per cent to 43 per cent….This month, its farmers reported that fruit and veg are rotting in its fields because so many EU migrant labourers have left since the referendum. There were some 17,000 EU nationals in Cornwall, around 3 per cent of the population, but this year, the staffing levels on farms have fallen to 65 per cent of what they need.

David Simmons of Riviera Produce, a major supplier of cauliflowers, broccoli and cabbage, said: “If we can’t get access to migrant labour Cornwall will see a dramatic change. The farming industry will collapse. The hospitality industry will collapse.”

He points out that almost 90 per cent of his workforce is European because locals don’t want to get up early to pick vegetables in the cold and the rain, even at £12 to £14 an hour; they prefer office or supermarket jobs. Cornwall’s daffodil farmers, who are among the world’s biggest producers, echo his sentiments; they need hundreds of seasonal workers every year but very few locals apply.

Now, the county council has asked the government to give Cornwall an exemption on post-Brexit migration curbs for low-skilled workers. Council leader Adam Paynter says: “We are calling on the government to take a place-based approach to future migration, to make sure that the Cornish economy has access to skills which may not be highly valued in London but which are vital to a major rural economy like ours.”

In South Tyneside, which backed Leave by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, the local council is also seeking protection from the results of Brexit. Last week the think tank IPPR North revealed that leaving will hit the north much harder than London; in an area that’s already substantially poorer than the south, more than 10 per cent of the region’s goods and services are dependent on EU trade, compared with 7 per cent in London.

The EU’s economic subsidies to the north-east in the past decade have been higher than for any other region, at almost £190 per head. Yet the area still voted to reject the union, in a variation of “What did the Romans ever do for us?”. Now South Tyneside’s council is demanding that the northeast’s EU subsidies should be replaced by government ones at the same level, and that there should be a “continued free flow of skilled people, and frictionless, barrier-free trade”. It says it hopes economic and social improvements will follow from Brexit. Everything may have changed, in other words, but everything should stay the same. Except where it could become even better.

This is cloud cuckoo land: the universe in which leaving the EU is the panacea, but it’s somebody else, anybody else, who must live with the inconvenient consequences of quitting the biggest free trade area in the world and introducing financial, practical and psychological barriers to the free movement of people, goods and services.

It’s the same pattern in care homes or hospitals, where the elderly who voted 64 per cent to 36 per cent to leave are going to be worst affected by the fact that the flow of EU nurses has fallen by 90 per cent in 12 months. Before the vote they made up a third of new nurse registrations.

Or take the waste-management firm in the Midlands, located in a sea of Leavers, that now can’t get European firms to renew their five-year deals on taking unrecyclable waste to use as fuel, because nobody knows what the post-Brexit trade terms will be. An executive there told me that local authorities around the country are privately talking of reopening mothballed landfill sites now that exporting waste to Europe may become so problematic and, given the pound’s post-Brexit fall, expensive. More sovereignty means more rubbish; that’s not one of the slogans I remember from the bus.

These are the inescapable realities that are just beginning to be grasped. Despite the optimistic assertions of a great future for Britain, Brexit is going to hurt all over, and a hundred special exemptions won’t avoid it. Our growth has already tumbled to the bottom of the G7, our stagnant wages have fallen behind inflation again, and Treasury forecasts predict that in 15 years, Brexit will leave the economy 6-7 per cent smaller than it would have been. Leavers must all be hoping that somehow, they won’t be the ones paying the price.

Jenni Russell in The Times, 16 November, 2017

2 comments on “Rotting from the inside

  1. […] Balthasar van der Ast Basket of Fruits c. 1625 Oil on wood, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Image source: WGA […]

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  2. […] Putting politics above prosperity is the definition of the Conservative Government’s decision to hold the EU Referendum and to pursue a hard Brexit. The right wingers’ vision of Brexit is of prosperity for themselves, not the country at large. […]

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