The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on October 3, clarified that he would not revert to low-paid “uncontrolled immigration” despite the country’s labour shortages, implying that such pressures were part of the post-Brexit adjustment phase.
Johnson was forced to defend his government again at the start of his Conservative Party’s conference, but this time facing complaints from those unable to get gasoline for their cars, retail industry warning of Christmas shortages, and gas companies struggling with a spike in wholesale prices.
The PM had desired to use the conference to wrap up the Covid-19 discussion and to refocus on his 2019 election promises to address regional inequality, crime, and social services. Nevertheless, nine months after the Brexit from the European Union (EU), which he claimed would offer the UK more freedom to build its economy, the prime minister finds himself on the defensive.
“The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration, and allow in huge numbers of people to do work…So what I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills supported by uncontrolled immigration,” PM Boris Johnson told on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“When people voted for change in 2016 and…again in 2019 as they did, they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skill and chronic low productivity, and we are moving away from that,” Johnson added.
It was the nearest the prime minister has gone to acknowledging that Britain’s leaving from the EU had strained supply networks and the labour force, affecting everything from gasoline supplies to possible Christmas turkey scarcity.
“There will be a period of adjustment, but that is I think what we need to see,” said Johnson. The prime minister was clear, though, that he would not open the floodgates of immigration to fill such gaps, instead of putting the onus on employers to raise pay and attract more workers.
Shortages of employees caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc in several sectors of the economy, disrupting fuel and medicine delivery and putting over 1,00,000 pigs at risk of being slaughtered due to a lack of abattoir staff.
The Conservative Party’s chair, Oliver Dowden, said the government was taking steps to hire more truck drivers in general, and that military tanker troops were being trained to begin fuel deliveries on October 4. “We’ll make sure people get their turkey for Christmas,” Dowden told Sky News. “I know that for Environment Secretary George Eustice, this is definitely top of his priorities,” he added.
The conference in Manchester looks destined to be dominated by supply-chain difficulties and condemnation of the government’s cancellation of a top-up to a state benefit for low-income people, rather than the reset Johnson planned to preside over.
Johnson could also face criticism for deviating from the Conservative Party’s historic stance of low taxes by raising them to support the health and social care industries. “We don’t want to raise taxes, of course, but what we will not do is be irresponsible with the public finances,” Johnson said. “If I can possibly avoid it, I do not want to raise taxes again, of course not.”