The sight of enraged Brits lining up for hours at gas stations as panic-buying grips the nation has united Europe in schadenfreude.
Chaos has descended on Britain’s urban areas over the past few days after a severe shortage of truck drivers made it impossible for gas to be delivered as normal, sparking a mass national freakout. On Monday, BP confirmed that a third of U.K. gas stations had run out of fuel and news crews showed scenes of red-faced anger in miles-long lines of vehicles, including one report from the aptly-named BBC reporter Phil McCann.
The problem, according to the gas companies, is not supply—it’s people panic-buying after a lack of delivery drivers made it seem as if gas was running out across the country. Shell, ExxonMobil, and Greenergy said in a statement that the disorderly scenes throughout Britain are down to “temporary spikes in customer demand—not a national shortage.”
And that’s where Brexit comes in.
Over the past few months, Brits have noticed massive gaps appearing on supermarket shelves, restaurants have been shutting down after running out of chicken, and there have even been ominous warnings of an imminent national beer shortage. That’s all due to a huge 100,000-strong shortfall in truck drivers, in large part due to European drivers leaving the country behind following its withdrawal from the European Union.
Things have gotten so bad that the British government, led by the man who spearheaded the Brexit campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced last week that it will beg 5,000 European drivers to come back with the offer of temporary visas lasting until Christmas Eve. But, after the past five years of anti-EU rhetoric, they seem in no mood to help.
Edwin Atema, a boss at the Netherlands-based FNV Union which represents drivers across Europe, turned the air blue on British breakfast radio Monday morning when he was asked if the EU workers he represents might be tempted to take up Johnson’s offer of a three-month visa.
The union rep hit back: “The EU workers we speak to will not go to the U.K. for a short-term visa to help the U.K. out of the shit they created themselves.” After a little gasp, the BBC Radio Four host responded: “Thank you. Not ideal language but we get the message.”
Government officials have also not wasted any time getting their digs in. French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said Monday that the national shortages in Britain were proof that voters were misled when they decided to leave the EU five years ago. “Every day, we see the intellectual fraud that was Brexit,” Beaune told a news network in France.
Olaf Scholz, who’s set to replace Angela Merkel as German chancellor after an election victory, said with a detectable smirk, “The free movement of labor is part of the European Union and we worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the Union. Now they have decided different, and I hope that they will manage the problems coming from that.”
For their part, the British government has inevitably denied that Brexit is the cause of the national chaos. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed Friday that Brexit helped “provide a solution” to the issue by allowing the government to change truck driver test requirements and open up its temporary visa offer to European drivers. “I’ve seen people point to Brexit as if it is the culprit here. In fact, they are wrong,” he told Sky News.
But, worryingly for Johnson, the public doesn’t seem to agree. One poll published Sunday showed that British voters, including those who voted to leave the EU voters, blame Brexit for the truck driver crisis, with 68 percent saying that Brexit is either partly or completely to blame.