U-turn after Brexit: Johnson issues visas to EU truck drivers – economy

The yellow sign has been in front of the Shell gas station on Richmond Road for three days. “Sorry, fuel is temporarily unavailable,” he said. And at the pumps: “Sorry, broken down.”

When will gasoline and diesel be available again? The cash register clerk shrugs a little helplessly this Sunday morning. There must be a delivery, she says, but she doesn’t know when exactly. sorry

Looks better a few hundred yards away. At the BP petrol station, which had to close on Saturday, there is fuel again. And with it a long queue. Dozens of cars are lined up this Sunday in southwest London. And not just there. There were traffic jams outside petrol stations across the UK over the weekend.

It was obviously these images that forced Boris Johnson to make a sudden U-turn. After the British Prime Minister and his ministerial ranks claimed for weeks that Brexit had nothing to do with supply shortages, Johnson finally pulled the handbrake, as the Sunday Times said. Seen this way, the Prime Minister made a huge U-turn.

On Sunday evening, the London Transport Department announced that from October thousands of work visas will be issued to foreign truck drivers in an effort to bring delivery issues under control. “Boris is fed up with the headlines and wants this resolved, he doesn’t care about visa rules anymore,” the Financial Times quoted as an “ally” of Johnson.

The criticism comes from economics: “It’s like trying to put out a campfire with a thimble of water.

Now strict immigration regulations must be relaxed liberally for the first time since Brexit. The government wants to bring 5,000 truck drivers and 5,500 skilled poultry processing workers to the country, but only for three months. According to the Ministry of Transport, the action should “ensure that preparations for the Christmas season remain on schedule”. Or to put it more clearly: cheap labor from Eastern Europe should ensure that there are enough turkeys for Christmas dinner in the UK. Not to mention the other foods that supermarkets need to be stocked with.

The UK economy has suffered from major delivery problems for weeks. According to the Road Haulage Association, there is a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers. There are simply not enough people who can bring goods from point A to point B – or gasoline to gas stations. The UK government points out that the driver shortage is a global problem. Due to the corona pandemic, many had given up their jobs as truck drivers, and the elderly in particular were retiring. And those who wanted to become truck drivers could not because the driving schools were closed during the confinement. It just wasn’t possible to get a truck driver’s license.

Problems like this exist in other countries as well, but in the UK Brexit has exacerbated the shortage of truck drivers. At least that’s how the UK economy sees it. Representatives of the logistics and retail industry therefore welcomed the government’s announcement to issue 5,500 work visas to foreign truck drivers. But they also made it clear that this step will not be enough to solve the problem in the long run.

Supermarkets alone needed at least 15,000 truck drivers to keep stores running at full capacity before Christmas and avoid delivery problems, said Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium. British Chamber of Commerce President Ruby McGregor-Smith also criticized the measures that were far from sufficient: “It’s like putting out a campfire with a thimble of water.”

The head of the CBI industry association said: “You cannot turn baggage handlers into butchers overnight.”

The government made it clear over the weekend that it did not plan to allow the economy to put further pressure on it. The Ministry of Transport has once again stressed that importing workers from abroad is not a lasting solution. Instead, companies should make sure that the job of the truck driver is made more attractive to locals. Above all, this means introducing better working hours and paying higher wages.

For its part, the government wants to offer free retraining. In total, there will be 50,000 additional driving exams per year. In order to alleviate the short-term driver shortage, around a million letters are also sent to former truck drivers convincing them to return to work. British military driving instructors must help make up for driving tests that were canceled during the pandemic. Industry association CBI criticized the government’s attitude to focus on training. “You can’t turn baggage handlers into butchers or shopkeepers into cooks overnight,” CBI boss Tony Danker told the BBC.

The question remains whether the government’s visa campaign will have the desired effect. Either way, the Road Haulage Association doubts that a sufficient number of truck drivers will come to the island. Time is running out and it is questionable whether the drivers, who are also desperately needed in the EU, are embarking on a temporary adventure, association director Rod McKenzie of the PA news agency said. Before the pandemic, according to the National Statistics Office ONS, a total of 37,000 EU truck drivers worked in Britain. Of these, around 13,500 have left the country since the coronavirus outbreak. How many of them will come back after the full opening of Brexit.

It seems Johnson wanted to prevent one thing above all with his visa reversal: anti-government protests like the one that existed in 2000. Around this time, truck drivers across the country protested against high fuel prices. They blocked the access roads to the refineries and paralyzed traffic on the highways. A nightmare for then Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair.

So far, there have been no large-scale protests against Johnson’s Tory government. Whether it stays that way depends on how long the gas stations say, “Sorry, broken down”.

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