Recent headlines have trumpeted the shortage of hauliers as another case of the ills of Brexit. But the reality is that hauliers are in short supply across Europe, and that the situation has only been worsening since the late 2000s.
In fact, the problem is directly caused by EU policy. The EU’s Single Market in labour created competition on wages and standards between high-income western European states and former Eastern Bloc countries. Mirroring trends in other skilled sectors, the haulage industry became reliant on eastern European labour, as drivers from wealthier countries exited the profession.
While this held down consumer prices, it created precisely the squeeze on real wages and living standards for workers which contributed so much to the Brexit vote. Moreover, it is likely that it led businesses to neglect investments in improving productivity, content to rely on cheap labour to stay competitive.
Contrary to Remainer thinking, EU integration is thus responsible for the problem, not the answer to it. The powers returned as a result of Brexit will enable the UK to address the problem much more effectively than the cumbersome machinery of the EU.
Indeed, Europe has belatedly recognised the problem that Single Market integration has created. Prompted by worries about popular discontent across the EU more generally, the European Commission has implemented proposals to try and tackle the phenomenon of low-paid and exploited eastern European drivers ‘touring’ western Europe and undercutting local drivers.
But enforcement across member states who are opposed to the measures (Poland and others) is next to impossible. In case, regulation of this sort papers over a much more threatening chasm. The EU is a region of vastly different regional economies, which can’t be yoked together under one standard without serious imbalances. Here as elsewhere, Brexit gives us more freedom to tailor our regulations to our own economy.