“Yes, there will be a period of adjustment, but that is, I think, what we need to see in this country,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the Andrew Marr Show regarding the supply chain interruptions that have struck the UK since Brexit came into effect in January 2021, and have been compounded by COVID-induced delays.
What does this “adjustment period” look like? Long lines at petrol stations, not because there is a lack of fuel in the country, but because there is a lack of truck drivers to transport it. According to Reuters, almost a quarter of fuel stations in London and the southeast are still without fuel today. It might take a week to 10 days to get stocks back up to normal. In addition, thousands of animals headed to slaughter because of a poultry workers shortage. And a Prime Minister who insists we can’t “simply go back to the tired failed old model, reach for the lever called uncontrolled immigration.”
Instead, the government opts for some other kind of migration, which, they imply, is more controlled. Thus, a Home Office statement announced that the UK would grant extra temporary work visas until Christmas 2021 to ease supply chain pressures in food and haulage industries during exceptional circumstances this year. 5000 extra heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and 5500 poultry workers have been added to the quota for temporary workers. Normal immigration rules have been waived or bended for those who can start immediately. This is what the PM calls “controlled” migration. Not because of the control on who is let in necessarily, but because of the conditions linked to temporary visas. Temporary workers cannot to settle in the UK in the future. Rather, the visa holders can stay in the UK for three to six months to work before returning to their own country or switching into different via categories.
Unsurprisingly, take up for these extra visas has been (s)low. Additionally, nearly one million residents with HGV licence have received a letter inviting them to help out and join the industry, and 4000 new HPV drivers are being trained to ease supply chain pressures in food and fuel.
As an emergency measure, the government has temporary deployed the army to deliver fuel to service stations. Earlier this year, the army was also deployed to help with COVID-19 vaccinations. Some say this tendency to rely on the army in times of crisis is problematic, and shows the army to be the most efficient state apparatus PM Johnson can still rely on in times of crisis.
If these measures seem too little too late, that’s because they are. Industry experts have been warning for years that Brexit would worsen conditions already prone to such disruptions, as one in five workers in the food and drink supply chains are EU nationals who are impacted by the UK leaving the bloc. Most seasonal workers (e.g. poultry workers around Christmas time or agricultural workers) originate from the EU, and especially Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Seasonal working visas, however, are capped and under the New Points-Based Immigration System other unskilled labour visas are simply non-existent.
This is all part of the government’s plan to attract only the “best and brightest” to work in the UK, at any cost. That is, assuming the best and brightest have enough fuel to get here.