Twenty one years ago, I was a retail manager in charge of a smallish Texaco petrol station in Hampshire. I was about half way through a near ten year on/off* career with Texaco** when something unexpected happened. Every petrol station in the country ran out of petrol. Every single one of them. The Great Blockade of 2000 was quite the event. Drivers of all manner of large vehicles decided they’d had quite enough of ever increasing fuel prices, and blockaded the major oil refineries.
Retail management is a pretty thankless job, but I suddenly found myself blessed with newly created benefits and perks. Whilst traffic disappeared from the roads, I carried on as normal, having set aside a healthy reserve of unleaded petrol for the use of myself, friends and family. I did not need to join an hour long queue for a few litres of go go juice.
My motorbike was in for service and a new rear tyre, which my garage did for free. Sure, I discreetly sold him two huge jerry cans full of the good stuff. Whether that had anything to do with his generosity is something only he could tell us. I may have let the very pretty girl who sometimes smiled at me have a half tank full in exchange for further smiles in the future.
From the moment panic buying began to pumps running dry took less than a week. Once the grip of the blockade was loosened, it took more than two weeks to fully replenish every petrol station, and a good month before things were properly back to normal. For several years afterwards, every rumour/suggestion/careless news report about a new blockade led to long queues amid a new bout of panic buying.
I’m no longer a petrol station manager, so I am forced to join the queues in the Great Fuel Shortage of 2021. Reluctantly. Panic buying is daft. And yet, if everyone else is doing it, one if forced to join in. This morning, the four closest service stations to home were all dry. The fifth had just received a delivery. The queue wasn’t too long, so I took the opportunity. I’m good to go for about a month, hopefully.
Brexiters are adamant that none of this is anything to do with Brexit. Of course they are. They were always a pretty thick bunch. Are there numerous factors at play? Of course there are. But the Serengeti Rules, and variations of it, also apply in social, political and economic worlds. And in this story, Brexit is the key. Gas supplies are running low across Europe, but its just the UK who’ve seen wholesale prices quadruple.
It’s just the UK who can’t meet driver shortages from the pool of drivers in the EU. It’s just the UK who are having supplies disrupted at great cost in time and money at the border. It’s just UK companies who are shutting down entire operations in the EU because the cost and difficulty of running them in a post Brexit world is simply too much. It’s just the UK that has a rocketing trade deficit with the EU thanks to plummeting exports.
This brings me to the title of the post. Brexit was sold as ‘Global Britain’, a vague, nationalistic ,flag waving exercise based on a fictitious notion of British exceptionalism. What it has actually done is create a relationship that I am familiar with from my time in Mexico. A smaller nation that is economically and politically beholden to the behemoth next door. The minnow that must try and find its way in the shadow of a giant.
Mexican governments have had an appreciation for the reality of their situation and work with it as best they can. The UK government and a goodly chunk of the electorate aren’t there yet. They are still in denial, clinging on to slogans that will stand the test of time about as well as Chamberlain’s cry of ‘Peace in our time’. They need us more than we need them? We hold all the cards? Take back control?
They are slogans that history will use to beat the reputations of Johnson, Farage, Redwood, Hannen, Gove and co into the dirt. Some painful lessons have already been administered. Plenty more painful lessons lie ahead. The UK will go on, but it has been diminished by Brexit. It’s been made poorer by Brexit. It is genuinely a tragedy for the ages.