What is the answer to the riddle of the KFC without any chicken? Why can the chicken not cross the road? What the cluck is going on? The answer to all these questions, varying in comic intensity I concede, is “Brexit”.
Those who love a cheeky Nando’s (and who doesn’t?) – as well as poultry farmers and caterers – have been going around like headless chickens (apologies) lately to try and get a poulet in a pot.
The poultry folk certainly know what’s plucking-well been happening, though. The chief executive of the British Poultry Council, Richard Griffiths, put it quite clearly: “When you don’t have people, you have a problem – and this is something we are seeing across the whole supply chain. The labour crisis is a Brexit issue.”
Others are more reticent about mentioning Brexit, perhaps for fear of “ruffling feathers”, you might say.
No surprise, really, these shortages. It’s common sense. EU farming workers returning home and a lack of EU drivers operating in the UK lie behind the problems, as they have the supermarkets and retail generally where odd shortages have appeared on shelves (bleach at Asda, in your correspondent’s personal experience).
Maybe Covid or the “pingdemic” also had an impact; but then again, if we still had free movement of workers across the EU, that flexibility might have helped ameliorate the effects of the pandemic.
Even the supporters of Brexit concede that there would be disruption in the months after withdrawal, and especially as various grace periods have ended. And so, ahem, our Brexit chickens have come home to roost.
Of course, the upside is that wages across the board have risen with the labour shortage – but so will prices. One person’s wage rise is another person’s price rise.
Indeed, one of the earliest gifts of Brexit, one only partly foreseen by “Project Fear”, seems to be an incipient wage-price spiral which the Bank of England will be obliged in due course to choke off through higher interest rates (ie bigger mortgage bills, with all that means for the housing market).
So the real value of the higher wages is quickly eroded through higher prices. Maybe not “the Brexit we voted for”?
We once hoped, as at previous moments of national crisis, for rescue from the “new world”. If only Boris Johnson and Liz Truss had completed the much-hyped US-UK trade deal, we might now have the famous 51st US Airborne Chlorinated Chicken Division parachuting in to make the ultimate sacrifice for our fried chicken shops, a cultural as well as a culinary bastion of the modern British way of life.
But, sadly, there is no sign of these harakiri peri-peri plucky warriors flying over the horizon. It seems we can’t have our cake, or our chicken – and eat it – after all.