It has been a gloomy week on the sunlit uplands of sovereign Britain, as Boris Johnson continues his assault on David Cameron’s title as the prime minister you’d least like to leave in charge of a piggery.
While Johnson sizzles in Marbella, there’s no-one to save the bacon of the 4,500 porkers who the National Farmers’ Union say will be shot with bolt guns or given lethal injections before being incinerated this week. That will take the tally of pigs destroyed without entering the food chain to over 5,000, with possibly another 115,000 to come.
As reported here some weeks ago, the UK is suffering from a lack of experienced butchers and abattoir workers caused partly by Brexit. Many from the EU went home before or because of the pandemic and have not returned because of tighter immigration rules, including the need for skilled worker visas and an English language requirement that is the same level as that expected from European doctors and vets.
The result is a pile-up of pigs. Farmers can’t afford to feed them all, so the backlog is now destined to be shot or lethally jabbed and burned instead of making their way onto the plates of carnivores. It’s causing farmers real distress as well as real hardship, with some facing losses of £20,000 a week.
What comfort did the PM leave them with before going on holiday? A series of quips about pigs dying anyway. “The food processing industry does involve the killing of a lot of animals, and that’s just what happens,” he told Andrew Marr of the BBC. “I’m afraid pigs are very often eaten in this country. If you have a bacon sandwich, that’s what happens,” Johnson joked to Times Radio’s Tom Newton-Dunn, ignoring the fact that not even those who like their bacon extra crispy will be able to get a single rasher from the pig pyres starting to burn across the country.
Meanwhile, there’s one winner from the whole ghastly mess. Germany, which normally sends much of its pig products to China but currently can’t because of a swine fever flare-up, is now able to flood the EU market with cheap pork while undercutting UK export prices and also snapping up those elusive abattoir workers to deal with the boom. In German, this is what’s known as die Brexit-Dividende.