Supply chain crisis: Conservatives set to do about-face on foreign worker visas | Supply chain crisis

Ministers are set to agree on an extraordinary post-Brexit turnaround that would allow foreign truck drivers to return to the UK to avoid shortages threatening fuel and food supplies.

Boris Johnson on Friday ordered a quick fix to prevent the crisis from escalating. Ministers met to try to agree on a short-term visa regime potentially allowing thousands of foreign truck drivers to come to the UK.

The Prime Minister has reportedly weighed in to demand a compromise from his warring cabinet, which was divided on the issue, after scenes of chaotic queues at some gas stations and warnings from suppliers that fuel shortages on forecourt could get worse. On Friday evening, forecourt operator EG Group announced it would introduce a £ 30 fuel limit per customer.

The shortage of up to 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers – exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit – has also had an impact on the food sector and other industries. The British Retail Consortium warned on Friday that a major Christmas disruption was “inevitable” unless the problem is contained within the next 10 days.

The prime minister and his cabinet have publicly downplayed the scale of the problem. A high-ranking government source said some ministers appeared keen to avoid the perception that Brexit was to blame and were therefore reluctant to relax immigration rules.

However, the Office for National Statistics found that millions of people were already faced with empty supermarket shelves, with one in six struggling to find essentials.

As the government grows worried about the threat to supermarkets and fuel supplies, ministers are set to allow lorry drivers to come to the UK on short-term visas , probably for several months.

Handwritten signs are stuck to a fuelless petrol pump available at a Shell service station in Manchester. Photograph: Phil Noble / Reuters

A Downing Street spokesman said the government was considering “temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems, but any measures we introduce will be very strictly time-limited.”

She stressed that the UK has “sufficient stocks of fuel in this country and the public should be reassured that there is no shortage”.

While many blamed Brexit for the driver shortage, Downing Street claimed it was a ‘temporary Covid-related shortage’ also suffered by other countries around the world.

On Friday evening, cabinet sources said discussions were underway but the plan is expected to be approved over the weekend.

The move will be seen as a remarkable drop, as Johnson’s Brexit campaign was founded to give the UK more control over immigration and end free movement. It is likely that other sectors suffering from labor shortages – such as the hospitality industry – will now pressure ministers to grant them exemptions as well.

Under the current system, truck drivers do not meet the skills threshold that would qualify them to come to the UK. But the proposed scheme could allow temporary visas, similar to the seasonal worker scheme under which people can apply to come to the UK for six months to do farm work if they have a sponsor and money to provide for it. to their needs.

Empty shelves
Friday supermarket shelves in a Sainsbury’s hypermarket in London Colney, Hertfordshire. The ONS reported that one in six people have ever reported difficulty finding essentials. Photograph: Rex / Shutterstock

Anne McLaughlin, SNP immigration spokesperson, said: “The Prime Minister and top Tory ministers have been repeatedly warned of the damaging consequences of their extreme Brexit plans, including the threat of shortages of staff. Despite these warnings, the Conservatives cautiously moved on. The pandemic has undoubtedly brought challenges.

“However, the suppression of free movement and the reduction of immigration in pursuit of an ideological Brexit have made the difficulties worse and have been a major factor in the problems we face today: empty supermarket shelves, shortage of staff and lack of drivers leading to the gas station closures. “

The Home Office had opposed adding heavy truck drivers to the official list of job shortages, but was reportedly persuaded to support a shorter-term visa regime.

Grant Shapps, the transportation secretary, was also initially skeptical, but on Friday he vowed to “move heaven and earth” to resolve the issue, and said all options were on the table.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, believes the problem should be solved by transport and fuel companies offering higher wages and better working conditions instead of allowing entry to workers who might accept lower wages.

However, the visa program was pushed by George Eustice, the Secretary of the Environment. Stephen Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, was also in favor and among ministers meeting on Friday to finalize the solution.

The Home Office will ultimately have to approve the decision to ease immigration restrictions for drivers, with the government recognizing something needs to be done.

A source from Whitehall said cabinet ministers opposed to the shortage occupations list solution would prefer a plan to attempt to bring some of the 600,000 heavy truck licensees who are not currently into the industry. employed as drivers.

About Sandy Fletcher

Check Also

‘1,000’ foreign general practitioners are threatened with expulsion by the Ministry of the Interior

‘1,000’ overseas GPs face deportation from Home Office: Blow to NHS after UK taxpayers spend …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.