Johnson eyes post-COVID economy as UK Conservatives meet

LONDON, Oct 4 (BNA) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is ready to take “bold decisions” to rebuild the economy after the coronavirus pandemic, as his Conservative Party met Sunday for its first annual conference since 2019.

A Conservative Party conference opened on Sunday in the northwestern city of Manchester as a shortage of truck drivers to deliver fuel across Britain continues to cause empty pumps and long lines at many petrol stations. The Associated Press (AP) reported that concerns about a broader labor shortage in Britain, along with higher taxes, higher energy bills and cuts in welfare payments beginning this week, are among other challenges facing Johnson.

Johnson argued that Britain’s economy was simply going through an “adjustment period” after Brexit, and said supply chain problems and shortages of food and fuel could drag on until Christmas.

Despite economic concerns, opinion polls indicate that Johnson and the Conservatives have been polling ahead of the opposition Labor Party.

Ahead of the conference, Johnson said he was ready to make “big, bold decisions about the priorities people care about — such as social welfare, supporting jobs, climate change, tackling crime and raising the bar.”

Asked about the truck driver shortage crisis, Johnson said it was a “chronic problem” linked to an over-reliance on migrant workers willing to work at low wages and poor conditions. He said he would not repeat that mistake.

He told the BBC: “The way forward for our country is not simply to pull the big lever of uncontrolled immigration, and to let large numbers of people do work.”

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Referring to the 2016 referendum that led to Britain’s exit from the European Union, Johnson said: “When people voted for change in 2016…they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy based on low wages and low skills. Chronic low productivity. And we are moving away from that “.

He confirmed that the situation at gas stations was improving after more than a week of unrest – although retailers say drivers are still unable to get fuel at many pumps in the London area and southeast England.

Britain has long suffered from a shortage of truck drivers, but the problem has come to a head with a combination of Brexit, which ended the free movement of workers from the European Union to Britain, and the pandemic, which severely limited travel and halted their training. New local drivers who were opposed to replacing those who left for their home countries due to Brexit.

Brexit and COVID-19 have also exacerbated the current labor shortage across a wide range of industries from hospitality to construction and the food industry.

About 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, will be taken to the roads starting Monday to help ease a fuel supply shortage.

The Gasoline Retailers Association welcomed the move, but cautioned that it would have a limited impact given the relatively small numbers involved. The organisation’s head, Brian Maderson, said on Sunday that while the crisis was “almost at its end” in Scotland and northern England, more than one in five stations in London and southeast England still had fuel.

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The government also said on Friday it was extending an emergency visa program that seeks to bring in thousands of foreign truck drivers.

MI

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