In an upbeat speech on Wednesday at the end of the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, northwest England, Boris Johnson defended his strategy of phasing out cheap migrant labour. He offered assurances that this is what Britons voted in favor of Brexit in 2016 they wanted.
He said the UK was moving “toward a high-wage, high-skilled, high-productivity, low-tax economy”, but acknowledged that all of this “takes time” and would sometimes be “difficult”.
But this confident tone does not at all convince economic environments, which are facing supply problems affecting the country, from gas stations to supermarket areas, caused in large part by the lack of TIR drivers, which the sector estimates at 100,000.
Many TIR drivers from the European Union (EU) have returned to their home countries due to Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic, and tightening immigration rules have discouraged some from returning.
Many business leaders have warned that turning their backs on these migrant workers in favor of a more expensive local workforce means that inflation will rise and that consumers are ultimately the ones who bear these costs.
Richard Walker, general manager of the Icelandic supermarket chain that voted to leave the European Union, accused the government of treating companies like “sponges”, which can no longer absorb all the cost increases, energy bills and bills when hiring additional truck drivers.
Simon Wolfson, managing director of clothing chain Next, who is also a supporter of Brexit, warns that there is “real panic and frustration” in some sectors.
In his view, it would not be possible to resolve the labor shortage affecting the agri-food, catering or distribution sectors without employing foreign workers, as long as it did not interfere with immigration control or incur additional costs in the case of hiring non-UK foreign workers.
The Adam Smith Institute, a liberal think tank, denounced Boris Johnson’s rhetoric as “stylized, meaningless, and economically ignorant,” and Ryan Shorthus, director of the conservative think-tank Bright Blue, said the public would soon tire of Boris’ sweet words, if The government is not in control of the growing crises: high prices, taxes, fuel shortages and labor shortages.”
This criticism is shared by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). “We will ask the government to speak less and do more,” FSB Vice President Tina McKenzie told Sky News.
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