FT: Boris Johnson set to agree to a lorry driver visa scheme

The Financial Times has today reported that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to agree to a trucker visa scheme. The PM is said to have “lost patience with bad press about fuel shortages and economic disruption".

FT: Boris Johnson set to agree to a lorry driver visa scheme
© Copyright N Chadwick

As the FT writes, it is believed that ministers and officials are to meet today to look into a range of solutions that could alleviate the UK’s supply crisis, including temporary visas for foreign lorry drivers.

The FT says it has been told by an official that the visa scheme on the table would be an expanded version of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. The plans would grant “a few thousand HGV drivers and few thousand food processing workers” and would be intended to help the poultry industry in particular.

A source who the FT says is close to the situation is quoted as saying “Boris wants this solved”. The FT also quotes an ally of the PM, who reportedly said “Boris is completely fed up with bad headlines on this and wants it sorted and doesn’t care about visa limits any more.”

The driver visa issue was reportedly discussed last month, though the Home Office, and Priti Patel in particular, were said to be strongly opposed due to concerns the addition of lorry drivers to the list would lead to other sectors demanding more professions be added.

However, according to government insiders who have spoken to the FT, Patel has “dropped her resistance” to scheme, which transport secretary Grant Shapps also thinks is worth pursuing.

If it is true that Shapps thinks the visa scheme is worth pursuing, it represents a significant change of opinion. Just over 5 weeks ago he all but ruled out the prospect of lorry driver visas:

“I do not support using foreign labour to tackle a long-standing issue in the haulage industry. Leaving the EU has provided us with the opportunity to introduce a new immigration system while building a more resilient domestic workforce, and I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising our domestic workforce and supporting the many UK-based workers who now face an uncertain future due to the impact of the measures to tackle Covid-19 and the need to find new employment opportunities.”

Sources at the Guardian have nonetheless read the situation differently. The broadsheet claims its sources believe that Shapps and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng are actually sceptical about the idea. The Guardian also reports that another source said the Home Office and Priti Patel were unconvinced too.

Despite organisations from the haulage, food and drink, retail, wholesaler and hospitality sectors repeatedly calling for a visa scheme for lorry drivers and other workers, doubts remain as to how effective it would be. Many truckers with EU passports have plenty of job offers in the European Continent, and would unlikely be tempted by some temporary work in the UK. Therefore, the UK could look to recruit drivers from countries further afield.

Moreover, the scheme would also take time to put in place, while so would the recruitment. Thus it remains to be seen if such a scheme would be able to end the UK’s supply chain issues by the time Christmas comes along.

Other options ministers are to investigate are a reduction in bureaucracy and a scheme to attract HGV drivers who have left the profession to come back.

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