Brexit: Uncertainty & Economic Shock

Muhammad Arshad

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Both the parties in the ongoing Brexit saga, the United Kingdom and European Union have made a lot of progress on taking the process further ahead. In Sharm El-Sheikh, Prime Minister Theresa May an­nounced that Britain and the European Union has made good progress in talks about Brexit and a deal is still within grasp so Britain can leave the bloc as planned on March 29. We still have it within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on the 29th of March, May said. We’ve had good progress, constructive discussions with the European Union.

The truth is that EU diplomats and leaders are now thoroughly fed up with the stagger­ing incompetence of the British government, the opposition and the Brexit and Remainer camps. They all know that Brexit has been a distraction at a time when Europe is trying to deal with its changing geopolitical position to­ward the United States and China. They want the whole Brexit saga to end. Britain has al­ways had an ambiguous relationship with the EU since it joined in 1973. It is time to end this ambiguity. Continuing British membership in the EU prompted by another referendum or whatever messy compromise, would be poisonous

The divides between Brexiteers and Remainers are so deep that any British EU delegation would be paralyzed. The United Kingdom’s hapless diplomats, whose foreign ministry back in London has been drained of talent because of inept leadership, would be constantly looking over their shoulders. They would fear making any statement about fur­ther reform of the European institutions. They would block any attempts to give Europe’s de­fense, security and foreign policy real teeth. Also, a continuing British presence in the EU could not claim an unqualified mandate from the British people. British policy toward the EU would be schizophrenic, even destructive. This is not what the EU needs, especially given the rise of populist movements one of many uncertainties currently facing Europe.

However, the Brexit economic shock dis­missed by Leavers as ‘Project Fear’ is already underway. As per research and analysis, con­sumers are engaging in behaviour that was common during the brutal recession that followed the financial crisis of 2008. Nation’s grocery baskets has, for example, found that the long term and welcome trend of people choosing food for health reasons has pla­teaued, as it did then. Levels of snacking have increased. More people are taking lunch boxes into work, rather than buying from sandwich shops or the canteen, because it’s cheaper. The eating out boom of recent years has slowed dramatically.

According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, in 1988 do­mestic foods accounted for 66 per cent, or two-thirds, of all of what was consumed in Britain. Today, that figure has fallen to 50 per cent, or half. Much of the new consumption has ar­rived from the European Union, from where 62 per cent of all free foods are imported. In the absence of a deal, or a Brexit delay, in less than a month from now the smooth, uninter­rupted flow of that food Britain enjoys through its membership of the single market will come to a juddering halt.

That’s a big problem because while UK con­sumers may say they like the idea of buying lo­cally, their buying habits speak otherwise. For example, just 41 per cent of the strawberries bought in Britain are consumed during their June, July and August season. The remainder is imported out of season, some from Europe or North Africa, some from further afield.

Retailers have done their best to respond. Range reviews have been conducted. We don’t tend to notice, but they regularly change through the year. They are changing now in ways they don’t usually change. Imported ranges have, for example, been simplified. Tesco has stated that it didn’t return fridges it rented during Christmas. It and Lidl have said that they’ll be hiring extra customs officials to get their produce fast tracked. Investments have been made in software and logistics planning.

Author is Editor of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’
and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’ can reached
arshans21@yahoo.com

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