'No relaxation of visa system' says PM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holding firm in the face of growing calls for a relaxation of the UK's post-Brexit visa system, saying there will be no return to what he calls "uncontrolled immigration".

An image of Number 10 Downing Street
Although the government is temporarily easing visa restrictions in the hope of attracting 10,500 lorry drivers and agricultural workers to ease chronic labour shortages and supply chain issues in the run-up to Christmas, Mr Johnson made it clear he was sticking by the points-based immigration system introduced when freedom of movement from the EU ended at the start of the year.Not only has there been a clamour from the haulage, agricultural and hospitality sectors for easier visas after they lost tens of thousands workers because of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, but business groups have also been warning of a shortage of high-skilled workers in sectors such as finance, engineering and IT.However, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday, Mr Johnson rejected the idea that the country was in crisis because of labour shortages and said the economy was merely confronting "the stresses and strains that you'd expect from a giant waking up" after the pandemic.He said the government was moving the away from relying on low paid and low skilled workers from the EU and said the nation's "world leading" logistics industry would fix the current supply chain issues.However, the prime minister revealed that, so far, there had been only 127 applications from overseas for the 5,000 HGV visas on offer. That, he insisted, was merely evidence of a global shortage of drivers.He added: "If you look at the productivity of the UK, we have undershot all our major competitors for two decades or more.
"That is because we have a low-wage, low-cost approach where business does not invest in skills, does not invest in capital or facilities."In an earlier interview with the BBC at the start of this week's Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson said: “The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration, and allow in huge numbers of people to do work. So what I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills supported by uncontrolled immigration.“When people voted for change in 2016 (in the Brexit referendum) and again in 2019 (at the general election), they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skill and chronic low productivity, and we are moving away from that.”However, Lord Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), told City AM that there should be an increase in short-term visas and that the government should establish a committee to set immigration targets to fill skills shortages.Lord Bilimoria, founder of the Cobra beer empire, said the government must issue as many visas “as the economy needs”.“The way that you have an independent commission or monetary policy committee that meets every month there should perhaps be...a body that looks at the labour needs of the economy and says you need so many more thousand in this sector or that sector for a year,” he said.“Something like that could be there on an ongoing basis. It’s not just Brexit - this is the needs of the economy at any one time and shortages can be caused by all sorts of outside economic factors.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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