Labour Leader Demands Visas For 100K Foreign Lorry Drivers Amid Global Shortage
16:50 GMT 26.09.2021 (Updated: 05:33 GMT 27.09.2021)
Keir Starmer was an outspoken opponent of leaving the European Union as Labour's shadow Brexit secretary in 2019, when he led the charge at the party's conference for re-running the 2016 EU membership referendum — a policy that lost the party the general election three months later.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded 100,000 foreign lorry drivers be given the green light to work in the UK — amid a global labour shortage that has seen wages soaring.
Interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Marr on Sunday morning on the fringes of the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton, he urged the government to issue visas for 100,000 Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers
And he blamed the "crisis" of panic fuel-buying and sporadic and localised shortages of some products in supermarkets on Brexit.
"On the HGV situation, we are going to have to bring in more drivers and more visas", Starmer insisted. "The prime minister needs to say today what he is going to do. There are 100,000 vacancies for drivers".
"We're going to have to do that. We have to issue enough visas to cover the number of drivers that we need. 100,000 is the size of a small city", he added.
"It is a complete crisis", Starmer insisted. "We have an energy shortage, shortages in our supermarkets".
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has responded to claims by the Hauliers' Association that its member businesses have 600,000 driver vacancies by streamlining the process of gaining an HGV license for British candidates.
Starmer admitted that "for a long time we have known there is a problem with HGV drivers, that has been there for years".
"But we knew in particular that when we exited the EU there would be a need for a back up plan to deal with the situation and there is no plan from the government on this, and here we are, 100,000 needed and the government is talking about 5,000 visas".
But the government has pointed out that the driver shortage — which has seen truckers' wages rise from £10.50 to £13.50 in the UK — was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and was affecting every continent except Africa.
Starmer also blamed the shortage of low-paid restaurant staff and poultry farm workers on the government rather than employers, accusing the Conservatives of a "complete lack of planning" and claiming Prime Minister Boris Johnson "cannot take key decisions".
Arriving at the first day of the conference on Saturday, Starmer claimed that on the short journey to the Brighton Centre he had seen two petrol stations with no fuel and a third with long queues.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Marr that he would rather "skill people up" in Britain by speeding up the licensing process than import "cheaper European labour".
And the minister informed Sky News'
Trevor Phillips there was "plenty of fuel" at the UK's six refineries and 47 storage facilities, adding that there would be no shortages
at the pumps if people only filled up "when they normally would".
Former Brexit Party MEP Lance Forman backed that assessment, pointing out that only 13 of some 1,400 BP petrol stations had failed to receive deliveries and blaming the media for stoking fears of shortages.
Forman, who is Jewish, was targeted during the 2019 European Parliament elections when a ten-metre-high swastika was painted on the wall of his smoked salmon business in London's East End. The candidate said he believed the culprits were opponents of Brexit rather than neo-Nazis.