Boris Johnson has denied that the UK is facing a supply chain crisis and said that current difficulties were “stresses and strains” as the economy revived “like a giant waking up”.
Speaking from the Tory conference in Manchester, the prime minister praised the UK as “world leading in logistics” and said it had the capability to fix its current difficulties.
In his first interview with the BBC’s Today programme in two years, Johnson said the demand for labour was a sign of economic robustness, but rejected the idea put to him that business should be allowed to bring in the workers they needed via immigration.
Johnson said “that approach has extreme limitations to put it mildly” and said the approach of business over the past 25 years had been to “mainline low cost immigration for a very long time”, resulting in the suppression of pay and working conditions.
‘Drunk on cheap labour’
The Telegraph reports a source close to the Cabinet also pointing the finger at businesses and accusing them of being “drunk on cheap labour”, saying that they had known for five years about the end of freedom of movement after Brexit.
Ministers told the paper that better-organised companies, such as Tesco, rarely had any shortages of products.
Business leaders hit back, saying they had warned about lorry driver shortages months ago and accused the government of “starting to panic” in the face of potential shortages at Christmas.
The prime minister has also admitted that only 127 drivers have applied for the temporary visas aimed at tackling shortages, according to the BBC.
The government has offered 5,000 driver visas until March, and Johnson said the take up was indicative of a global shortage of drivers.
There have also been only 27 applications from fuel tanker drivers for the visas, reports the Times.
This is a fraction of the 300 visas available for HGV drivers in the fuel industry, which has reportedly infuriated Downing Street after it agreed to the demand by oil companies to fast-track applications.
Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association blamed the short-term nature of the visa offer.
“People don’t want to come unless it is a really attractive alternative,” he said. “You don’t give up a well-paid job for a better-paid job if it will only last a few months.”
In the meantime, around 100 military drivers started making fuel deliveries yesterday.