10,500 people are set to be issued UK temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers and food industry workers to tackle labour shortages, as the government looks to fix Britain’s supply chain crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered thousands of visas to foreign truckers to combat a driver shortage that has left some supermarket shelves empty and caused long lines at gas stations.
The decision reflects the growing alarm within the government over a disruption to supplies that has prompted panic buying and, in some places, caused fuel to run out and gas stations to close.
The UK is estimated to be short of more than 100,000 lorry drivers – causing problems for a range of industries, including food suppliers and supermarkets
Since January, after Britain completed the final stage of Brexit, employers have been unable to freely recruit European workers, as was previously the case. The coronavirus pandemic has also exacerbated the crisis that stems from a long-term shortage of British truck drivers.
The British Department for Transport said in a statement that 5,000 fuel tanker and food truck drivers would be allowed to work in the country for three months in the prelude to Christmas to provide short-term relief for the commercial hauling industry. The department also noted that letters would be sent to truck drivers in Britain who hold licenses but are not currently working, appealing to them to return. The statement added that visas for 5,500 poultry workers would be made available for the same short period to reduce pressures on the food industry.
Until this weekend, many lawmakers who had backed the withdrawal from the European Union had argued that one of the positive consequences of Brexit was the pressure that it would place on employers to train more British truck drivers and improve the wages for an arduous job.
On Sunday, Grant Shapps, the transportation secretary, defended the move to bring in foreign workers. He told the BBC that while he did not want to “undercut” British workers, he could not stand by while lines formed outside gas stations. Mr. Shapps also said that Britain had adequate fuel supplies, and he appealed to motorists not to buy more than they normally would.
But Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, criticized the government’s move and accused it of a lack of planning. Mr. Starmer told the BBC, “We knew in particular that when we exited the E.U., there would be a need for a backup plan to deal with the situation.”
It was far from clear on Sunday whether the new visa measures would resolve a crisis that, for some, has echoes of the chaos that gripped the country in 2000, when a fuel protest rocked the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair.