Boris claims supply chain chaos part of ending 'low wage' culture

Boris denies being ‘out of touch’ as he claims supply chain chaos is just part of ending UK’s ‘low wage’ economy – as he admits only 127 lorry drivers have applied for emergency visas in government plan to ease problems

  • Boris Johnson doing a round of interviews from Tory conference in Manchester  
  • PM blamed supply chain chaos on Covid and change from ‘low wage’ economy
  • Admitted that just 127 foreign lorry drivers have applied for emergency visas 

Boris Johnson today denied being ‘out of touch’ as he claimed supply chain chaos is just part of ending the UK’s ‘low wage’ economy.

In a round of interviews at the Tory conference in Manchester, the PM insisted the country is at a ‘turning point’ as businesses are weaned off cheap labour after Brexit.

He said that disruption was also an inevitable ‘function’ of the global economy recovering and ‘sucking in demand’.  

But he admitted that Christmas might only be better from a ‘low base’ amid fears of shortages, after it was effectively cancelled during the pandemic last year.

And he conceded that the government’s efforts to bring in more lorry drivers from abroad are having limited success, with just 127 having applied for emergency visas.

Mr Johnson stressed that there is support for people facing huge pressure on energy bills and other living costs. 

Tensions have been rising between ministers and business over the crisis, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warning that firms will be to blame if the festive season is blighted by shortages and price rises.

One Cabinet source has told the Telegraph that companies have been ‘drunk on cheap labour’ and failed to plan for the changes.  

In a round of interviews at the Tory conference in Manchester, the PM insisted the country is at a ‘turning point’ as businesses are weaned off cheap labour after Brexit

Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast: ‘The supply chain problem is caused very largely by the strength of the economic recovery.

‘What you will see is brilliant logistic experts in our supermarket chains, in our food processing industry, getting to grips with it, finding the staff that they need, we will help them in any way that we can.

‘But the shortage is global.’

He went on: ‘What you can’t do is go back to the old, failed model where you mainline low-wage, low-skilled labour – very often very hard-working, brave, wonderful people – who come in, working in conditions that frankly are pretty tough and we shouldn’t be going back to that.’

That had led to a situation where there was not investment in the industry and ‘people had to urinate in bushes’ because of the lack of facilities for drivers, he said.

As the Conservative gathering enters its final stages, Home Secretary Priti Patel will today announce plans to hit eco-warriors with a new type of Asbo in an attempt to halt their motorway protests.

And Justice Secretary Dominic Raab will a unveil a deal to force criminals in ‘chain gangs’ to clear rubbish from waterways.

Mr Johnson is expected to use his Tory conference speech tomorrow to encourage a return to the workplace.

‘He believes very strongly in the value of face-to-face working,’ a senior source told the Daily Mail. ‘It is critical for the training and development of young people. How can you learn a new job on Zoom?’ 

Mr Johnson launched an ill-fated attempt to get office staff back to their desks last year, which was wrecked by the emergence of the second wave of Covid.

Scientific advisers have pressed him not to repeat the exercise this year because working from home is one of the most effective ways of slowing the spread of the virus.

Instead the Government left it up to employers to encourage a ‘gradual return to the workplace’.

But a second Tory source said ministers were now hopeful they would not have to issue another work from home order this winter.

‘You can never rule anything out with Covid,’ the source said. ‘But we are now in early October and hospitalisations are still running at manageable levels.

‘We are not at the point of anyone thinking about Plan B.

Amid growing confidence that Covid will not spark further lockdowns, the Prime Minister will use his Tory conference speech tomorrow to encourage a return to the workplace

‘Even if we get to that point, it would start with things that cause relatively little disruption, such as mandatory masks and Covid certification.’

In other developments at the Tory conference: 

  • The number of offenders forced to wear electronic tags will double under a major initiative from Mr Raab;
  • Rishi Sunak ruled out tax cuts until public finances were on a ‘sustainable footing’;
  • Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries questioned whether the BBC would still exist in ten years’ time;
  • Mr Johnson pledged that electricity will come entirely from green sources by 2035;
  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng rejected calls for more visas for foreign workers;
  • Pig farmers warned of ‘disaster’ as they protested outside the conference over a shortage of butchers;
  • A party member was suspended after a businesswoman said she had been ‘violently assaulted’ in a bar;
  • Sir Iain Duncan Smith was hit on the head with a traffic cone by Left-wing protesters chanting ‘Tory scum’;
  • Michael Gove signalled a huge shift on planning policy.

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