Consumers are already anticipating shortages. One farmer in Leeds said that by last month, customers had already ordered all 3,500 turkeys she was raising for Christmas — a first.
A lack of truck drivers has also caused sporadic shortages for staples including eggs, milk, and baked goods. One in six people in Britain said that in recent weeks they had not been able to buy certain essential food items because they were unavailable, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics, which surveyed about 3,500 households.
Some consumers interviewed in recent days said they had not had any trouble finding what they wanted at grocery stores. But Meriem Mahdhi, 22, who moved from Italy to Colchester in southeast England last month to attend college, said she had struggled to find essential items at her local grocery store, Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain. “All the dried foods like pasta, canned fruit, it’s all gone, every day,” she said. Tesco did not respond to a request for comment.
Seeking a quick fix, 200 military personnel in fatigues on Monday arrived at refineries to help deliver fuel to gas stations. About half of them driving civilian vehicles and the others providing logistical support. “As an extra precaution we have put the extra drivers on,” Mr. Sunak said.
Over the weekend, the government said that it had extended thousands of temporary visas for foreign workers to work in Britain until the first few months of next year. But economists said the temporary visas were unlikely to be enough to make much of a difference, since there are shortages at every link in the supply chain.
“There is a lack of workers coming in, and British people are not willing to do the job,” said Robert Elliott, a professor at the University of Birmingham. He said it was difficult to say how much of the supply-chain issues were a result of Brexit versus the pandemic, but regardless, the government has chosen policies that have not made the situation better. The government has underinvested in training workers to drive trucks, he said, and too few young people are pursuing the profession to replace ones who have retired.