As I dandered around my local supermarket this evening I couldn’t help but notice how starkly contrasted an experience it is now compared to this time last year. The sanitiser, the social distancing, the perspex screens and the masks. A year ago, such imagery would have been the work of a dystopian fiction, and to the covid sceptics many of the regulations are the realisations of just exactly that. But it wasn’t these additions to my weekly shop that struck me. As alien as they would have been a year ago, the developments of the pandemic and the supporting science around the efficacy of the masks, the sanitisers and all the precautionary measures makes them fathomable and in some regard welcome. However, a new experience which isn’t so welcome, and which struck me so viscerally this evening, was the sight of so many empty shelves.
Last week NI Secretary of State, the thoroughly useless Brandon Lewis, insisted that there existed no Irish Sea border despite the glaring fact that there are now new customs posts at Northern Irish ports receiving goods from the UK. In satisfying these custom posts, there is now an increased degree of infamous ‘red tape’ on the flow of goods from UK to NI, which Sam McBride refers to as “fiendishly complicated and expensive” for hauliers and traders to incorporate within their logistics. The result? Hauliers and traders cease exporting, after all, why would they? It’s complicated, it’s expensive and I can’t imagine the loss of the Northern Irish market will entirely cripple their business or else they would surely suffer the red-tape. This logic is played out clearly in the withdrawal of many goods from supermarket shelves which, as I observed tonight, is far more pronounced than is comfortable, and is well documented by various sources within NI.
It is of course the bearing of privilege for myself, or anyone, to decry the end of the world at the sight of an empty cheese aisle or frozen chips section. But there are very real ramifications of such disruption to the NI supply chain. Panic-buying for one, we now know from lived experience that the threat of limited supply during the early pandemic days induced a period of crazed panic buying at the behest of the toilet-roll lobby. If Brexiteering red-tape restricts the flow of goods from the so-called mainland, panic buying will surely be back in vogue, and it is unfortunately something which will disproportionately affect those in less-well off or deprived socio-economic backgrounds. That’s the thing with Brexit, it will never hurt the rich. After all, they can always up-ship and relocate away from the ensuing pandemonium of the UK aimlessly abandoning the largest trading block and second largest economy in the world (which would of course be to follow in the footsteps of chief Brexiteer Rees-Mogg.)
Ultimately, what we are now finally experiencing is the pain of the Brexit vote. It was all a bit of a laugh for those four years when your United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland passport could still pass through the EU gates at Dublin airport. When it seemed like nothing was really changing and the negotiations would drag out to the point of ad infinitum and eventually disappear. The pain of Leaving was foreseeable, but it hadn’t yet pervaded everyday life. Now it has. Now the pain of the Brexit vote is tangible and we can see the disruption to supply chains with the sight of empty shelves. It’s hitting us here in the old rotten limb of the union. Michael Gove, the Conservative incarnation of a scrotum, has said that things with NI and this ongoing supply chain issue will only get worse before they get better. Thing is, I’m reluctant to believe the “get better” bit, after all VoteLeave, of which he was a part, never mentioned the get worse part? It was all sun-lit uplands and sovereignty? Now I’m staring into an empty supermarket shelf and there are EU customs officials at Larne port imposing rules to which I can no longer (unfortunately) even have a say in?!
So the pain of Brexit is beginning to infuse our everyday lives in a way that’s more practical than theoretical. And that is the difference. The proposed arguments for Brexit, the control of the borders, the taking back control, the making our own laws and escaping EU red-tape (my god, the irony of the DUP peddling that one) they were all as good as entirely theoretical, they don’t impact our everday or even future lived experience. They exist in the abstract, if they even exist at all as benefits, they are for all intents and Orwellian purposes, doublespeak. The negative effects, the true impact of Brexit? Well, it appears that is more visible now in our everyday lives. Empty supermarket shelves are indisputable. The success of reclaiming a supposedly porous border (on a set of islands), well that’s up for debate. There is of course one benefit to Brexit, which is becoming more apparent if you’re an Irish Nationalist, and that is, all this new red tape between the UK and NI? Eerily emblematic of the same red-tape and conditions which ultimately justified many Brexiteers proposed severance from the European Union. So when the history books are written, under the chapter “Impacts of Brexit”, let it show that it was the DUP, Ian Paisley Jnr, Sammy Wilson and all the rest of the clan, who signed off the conditions which brought NI’s severance from the Union and Irish Reunification that much closer.