Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to play down a supply chain crisis that’s seen fuel shortages across the country and farm animals threatened with destruction, calling it a “turning point” for the UK economy as it emerges from the pandemic and after leaving the European Union.
In interviews, Johnson pushed his relentlessly positive message that the country will benefit from higher wages and investment. Yet he also said the UK had issued less than half of the 300 emergency visas it planned for foreign fuel tanker drivers.
“What we said to the road haulage industry was ‘fine, give us the names of the drivers that you want to bring in and we will sort out the visas, you’ve got
another 5,000 visas,’” Johnson
told BBC Television. “They only
produced 127 names so far.”
The government is seeking to shift responsibility for finding drivers to the industry against the backdrop of a spike in demand for fuel and rising living costs. Leaving the EU has meant the UK no longer has access to a pool of labour its economy had relied upon for years.
As Johnson toured the makeshift media booths at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, he said shortages of fuel and food aren’t a unique crisis for Britain but were happening across the world as the Covid-19 pandemic eases.
“What you are seeing is the UK economy coming back into life, really sort of stretching its legs, starting to move again, and of course there’s been a bit of creaking here and there because we haven’t had such activity in a long time,” Johnson later told LBC radio.
Even Johnson’s Brexit backers are urging the prime minister to move to change his immigration rules. Writing in the Evening Standard, Next Plc Chief Executive Simon Wolfson suggested a “demand-led” system that “allows the needs of our economy to pull in the talent we really need” with a business visa tax on hiring foreign workers.
Last month, the Bank of England cautioned that rising gas prices are set to push UK inflation above 4% by the end of the year and said the supply chain crisis was beginning to hamper Britain’s economic recovery.
Johnson argues the government is overseeing a transition “to address the big, underlying issues that face the UK; long-term lack of productivity, long-term lack of investment in energy and infrastructure,” he told LBC. “That will have a big downward pressure on costs and that is the way to tackle inflation.”
In other interviews, he also urged workers to return to their offices, suggesting they face being “gossiped about.”
His lengthy answers eventually frustrated one BBC radio presenter who told him: “Prime minister — stop talking.” But Johnson was in his element, sticking to the script that Britain was in a new chapter. He also waved away a question over a potential early election: “Nobody is thinking about that right now, quite frankly.”