UK rejects ‘uncontrolled immigration’ despite labour shortages

PM Boris Johnson defends his country’s choice to leave the EU as a lack of workers threatens to upend the Christmas season.

The absence of foreign workers has sown disarray in some sectors of the British economy, including fuel deliveries [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

The United Kingdom will not return to “uncontrolled immigration” to solve fuel, gas and food crises, officials have said, suggesting such strains were part of a period of post-Brexit adjustment.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his country’s choice to leave the European Union on Sunday, after shortages of foreign workers have sown disarray in some sectors of the economy.

“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,” Johnson told British broadcaster BBC at his Conservative Party’s conference.

“So what I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills supported by uncontrolled immigration. There will be a period of adjustment, but that is I think what we need to see.”

The comments were the closest the prime minister has come to admitting Britain’s exit from the EU has contributed to strains in supply chains and the labour force, stretching everything from fuel deliveries to potential shortages of turkeys for Christmas.

The prime minister finds himself on the back foot nine months after Britain completed its exit from the EU.

The government said it would issue temporary visas for foreign truck drivers and poultry workers, but said businesses must respond to supply chain issues by enticing more British workers with higher wages.

“I don’t believe in a command and control economy so I don’t believe the prime minister is responsible for what is in the shops. This is why we have a free enterprise economy,” Foreign Minister Liz Truss said at the conference.

The UK was set to deploy military tanker drivers starting on Monday to deliver fuel to petrol stations, many of which were running dry after a chaotic week that has seen panic-buying and fights breaking out.

The retail industry has warned the government that, unless it took immediate measures to alleviate an acute shortage of truckers, significant disruption was inevitable in the run-up to the Christmas shopping season.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies