Rishi Sunak admitted that Brexit has played in a part in the UK’s acute shortage of lorry drivers in an explosive interview with Alastair Campbell.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday, Campbell suggested that all the worst-case scenarios laid out before Brexit – from a fuel crisis to a chaos for pig farmers – have been realised since the UK left the European Union.
Referencing Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit, Campbell told the chancellor that the country had been told the government secured a “great deal”.
But, he said: “This is what it warned of: disruption to channel crossings; delays for lorries entering the UK; delays on immigration; disruption to fuel supplies, fuelling panic buying; possibly public disorder; electricity price rises; delays to medicine supplies; reduction in supply of fresh foods; supermarket price rises; fishing wars; breakdown in law enforcement on data; which of those has not happened, and which of them has anything to do with Brexit?”
Sunak replied that the HGV driver shortage “is an issue that we’re not just grappling here in the UK”, suggesting other European countries are suffering similar problems – despite no European country having to call in the army to keep pumps stocked.
But the chancellor insisted that “trying to blame” the shortages on Brexit is “unreasonable”. Pressed by Campbell, he admitted: “It’s certainly not exclusively because of Brexit.”
In his speech to Tory conference on Monday, Sunak claimed quitting the EU would give the British economy “flexibility” and “freedom”.
“I put my principles first and I always will,” the chancellor said in Manchester. “I was proud to back Brexit, proud to back Leave.
“And that’s because, despite the challenges, in the long term I believed the agility, flexibility and freedom provided by Brexit would be more valuable in a 21st century global economy than just proximity to a market.
“That in the long term,” he continued, “a renewed culture of enterprise, willingness to take risks and be imaginative would inspire changes in the way we do things at home.
“Brexit was never just about the things we couldn’t do. It was also about the things we didn’t do.”