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'It Does Keep Me Awake': Brexit Vexes Exporters, Short-Staffed Industries


On the other side of the Atlantic, the British government remains paralyzed over Brexit. The deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is two months away. And Parliament has yet to agree on how that will happen, increasing the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. That could have major consequences for the economy, trade and people's day-to-day lives. We wanted to hear how that uncertainty is resonating across the U.K. How are ordinary people preparing for the stakes of this divorce as they wait for a deal to be made?

BRYAN GRIFFITHS: It is very stressful. I don't mind admitting that it does keep me awake.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Bryan Griffiths. He tends a flock of 900 sheep in southwest England. He wants a deal, so he can continue trading with Europe. Without one, tariffs on the lamb that he and many others sell to the EU would drive down the prices he can get.

GRIFFITHS: At the moment, a lamb off my farm is worth, let's say, 80 pounds a head. If those exporters would have to pay 50 percent of the value to export it, it means they are only in a position to pay 40 pound.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Griffiths says he voted to remain. But he understands how divided this country is over the issue.

MICHAEL COOPER: At the end of the day, this country voted to leave the EU. And if there's a number of politicians that are trying to stop this happening, they're standing in the way of democracy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Michael Cooper, a staunch pro-Brexit supporter. He runs The Bubblecar Museum in the town of Boston in Lincolnshire County, located on the east coast of England. He also heads the city council. One of the main tensions of Brexit is over immigration. Cooper says about a quarter of the population of his town is Eastern European. But depending on what kind of Brexit deal is made, many of them could move away, leaving their employers short-staffed.

COOPER: This will make things slightly more difficult for some of the businesses. But we can turn the clock back. And the people that were doing the jobs 15 years ago can do the jobs again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He means British workers. But in some specialized fields, like medicine and public health, labor shortages might not be so easy to fix.

ROSE GALLAGHER: As a nurse, of course, I'm thinking very widely about, what will that mean in terms of the number of people that might want to come and work here in the U.K. for nursing?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Rose Gallagher of the Royal College of Nursing. In the past, EU citizens have helped with nursing and staffing shortages in the medical field. But many have already left since the referendum. Then there's the question of access to supplies, including medications.

GALLAGHER: We don't have the detail about, when we leave the EU, what that deal will mean for the overall supply of medicines.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For Jan Carson, a writer in Northern Ireland, Brexit has stirred up questions about her identity.

JAN CARSON: For people like me, who grew up with a huge affinity to British culture, it's created an opportunity for us to think about our identity and think about what it means to be Protestant in Northern Ireland now in 2019 as opposed to what we inherited from our parents 20, 30 years ago. I have just in the last six months applied for an Irish passport which - even that is a massive cultural shift.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ireland is part of the EU, while Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. and will leave Europe under Brexit. As the U.K. reconsiders its relationship with Europe, Carson says there is no question that Brexit will influence every level of people's lives. But Michael Cooper of Boston, Lincolnshire, says he's not worried.

COOPER: You know, life would still go on. Whether we have a good deal or no deal, it will still go on. And we'll still be here. And we're still be doing everything pretty well the same.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many disagree with that prediction in the very polarized U.K. The United Kingdom is slated to leave the EU on March 29. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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