I’d love to believe Brexit is working. But why are there so many weird shortages?

t started with a rabbit hutch, insanely expensive, but reportedly worth it: the only guaranteed fox-proof outdoor hutch on the market. I ordered it in January; I’d say I got an email about its progress roughly once a week. Twenty-five emails later, still no hutch, and I had started sending elaborate replies to an automated customer service entity: “It’s lucky I don’t have two rabbits, otherwise I’d need another 63 hutches by now, and when would I get those – 2027?” There were a couple of weeks when they were blaming the Suez canal, but mostly, it was “delays caused by Brexit”.

Was that really true or was it like at the start of the pandemic when it was just a go-to excuse, and the dry cleaner would blame Covid for failure to remove a stain? I don’t know enough about rabbit hutch supply chains and, さらに重要なことには, I don’t want to know. I just want to exist in a world where rabbit accommodation arrives more quickly.

I was somewhat opposed to Brexit as a project – I may have mentioned it – but now, in summer 2021, I sincerely want Brexit to work. I do not want to be one of those people who enjoys watching it not work. I do not want to be gloating over farmers, going: "上手, the leavers should have thought about this as a radical act of self-sabotage in the service of a rightwing agenda before they voted, shouldn’t they?” I will never be able to find any delight in a 45% drop in food exports, or langoustines rotting at the border. I want people across the island of Ireland to have as much refrigerated produce as they desire. I emphatically don’t want to have to go to four different shops to find some Calpol. There’s nothing I would like more than to have been wrong about everything.

So I exist in perpetual denial, choosing to believe that the hutch-makers are just pulling my leg and not working very fast. But when you’re in a state of deliberate myopia, you see ominous significance everywhere. "番号,” I think in the supermarket, “don’t be stupid. That’s not a sign – that’s just some mouldy cherries. True, it’s weird that they would be on the shelf for £3.20, rather than thrown away or at the very least discounted, but they are just mouldy cherries.”

Why are people’s social media accounts full of photographs of empty shelves, I wonder, when the actual media will go no further than: “There may be empty shelves if the government doesn’t get its act together on haulage. Haribo supplies are already looking iffy」? Why can’t I find any Um Bongo? Was it made in the EU, or was it never that popular, and I was keeping the market afloat single-handed? What has happened to all the Calpol, とにかく? Have the nation’s children all decided to fake a stomach ache at the same time? When did a lemon become a niche item? Why can I find prawn cocktail Quavers but not ur-Quavers? That’s the craziest stock decision I have ever seen. Seriously, Chinese supermarket: how is it possible to be out of seaweed salad seven weeks in a row? It’s a mirage, that’s what it is.

Nothing’s wrong, I tell myself, and everything’s the same. Sure, everyone’s run out of prosecco, but that’s just what it is to be English at the start of a non-summer. Anyway, I haven’t drunk prosecco for years, ever since Boris Johnson tried to threaten the Italians by using it as a hostage. “I refuse [orders for] a million bottles a week, as if it’s peanuts. As if it’s a glass of water,” one leading prosecco-monger replied, so that was never going to work.

Political boycotting aside, I don’t really like it.

最終的に, I blame myself for seeing signals that aren’t there. And who lives on seaweed, Um Bongo and Quavers anyway?

The only consumer event that I can reliably pin on Brexit is a Faroese tank top. I didn’t even want a tank top – I just wanted to know where the Faroe Isles were, and got led astray by Google. At £200, it cost much more than I would ever spend on knitwear, and it didn’t even have sleeves. Three months passed. A customs surcharge of £56 was applied. This was now my single most expensive item of clothing, and it would still be another month before it arrived. I had a jumper made of pure gold, held in the escrow of the post-Brexit trading landscape.

Then it came, and that was worse. It was a shapeless and rough-hewn thing that made me look, fittingly, like a tank and I couldn’t even send it back because it was made by a feminist knitting collective. 本当に, the disaster was two parts Brexit, one part domestic, one part body-shape and one part feminism – pointless to try to disaggregate them. Better just to wear the tank top and, fair play, it is very warm. This will be the story of the next few months, a sense of foreboding in the salad aisles, a lot of waiting, more complaining. The calm before the storm.

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