The Prime Minister urged bosses yesterday to give Britain a pay rise – as he warned the era of importing cheap foreign labour was over.
Boris Johnson said low wages were playing a key role in the crippling shortages affecting everything from fuel supplies to supermarket shelves.
And he acknowledged for the first time that supply problems could continue right up to Christmas.
The PM insisted the festive period would be ‘considerably better’ than last year when millions were banned from seeing their families – but refused to rule out the possibility of shortages on shelves.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted the Government should not be blamed if shortages wreck Christmas, saying: ‘I don’t believe in a command-and-control economy, so I don’t believe the Prime Minister is responsible for what’s in the shops.’
The run-up to this week’s Conservative Party conference has been overshadowed by the fuel crisis and growing problems with shortages.
The PM said low pay was the key reason employers were struggling to fill vital gaps in their workforces.
The Prime Minister urged bosses yesterday to give Britain a pay rise – as he warned the era of importing cheap foreign labour was over
Boris Johnson (centre) said low wages were playing a key role in the crippling shortages affecting everything from fuel supplies to supermarket shelves
Speaking at the start of the conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson said wages had been ‘totally flatlining for a decade’ as employers relied on open-door immigration.
He said firms in areas of shortage such as road haulage and food processing would have to ‘invest in… better pay’, as well as improve training and working conditions.
He acknowledged that the HGV crisis was ‘particularly acute in the UK’, partly because of post-Brexit immigration rules. But he said the answer to labour shortages was not to increase immigration.
‘The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and allow in huge numbers of people,’ he added.
John-scone: I’d love to be on Bake Off
With three days left at the conference, the proof is still in the pudding for Boris Johnson. But yesterday he said he’d ‘love’ to appear on The Great British Bake Off – as he told of his love for Bakewell tarts.
The Premier was speaking ahead of the event as he and Home Secretary Priti Patel visited Gorton, in east Manchester.
Asked whether he would like to be a contestant on Channel 4’s Bake Off, Mr Johnson replied: ‘I wish. I would love to do that. I don’t think they have ever invited me.’
He admitted that it was ‘a long time’ since he had helped with household baking but revealed his favourite sweet treat is a Bakewell tart.
‘If I was on death row I think I would have steak and chips followed by a Bakewell tart,’ he explained. The Prime Minister also put on his boxing gloves at the Hideout Youth Zone and turned his hand to a game of table tennis.
Mr Johnson, who has imposed a public sector pay freeze, said people had voted in the Brexit referendum ‘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’re moving away from that’.
Tory sources played down speculation that the PM is considering a major increase in the minimum wage.
‘That’s not what we’re talking about,’ one said. ‘This is a message to business that if they want to fill their vacancies they are going to have to pay people more.
‘They are no longer going to be able to rely on cheap labour from abroad – they are going to have to adjust.’
Around 200 soldiers will start driving fuel tankers today in a bid to ease the petrol crisis that continues to grip parts of the country, particularly in London and the South East, although Mr Johnson said the crisis was ‘abating’.
Ministers have also agreed to issue 5,000 temporary visas to foreign HGV drivers. A further 5,500 visas will be issued to poultry workers before Christmas.
Tory co-chairman Oliver Dowden said: ‘We will make sure people have their turkeys for Christmas.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Mail at the weekend that rolling shortages of key goods could continue for months and disrupt Christmas.
Asked about the comments, Mr Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘Rishi is invariably right in everything he says.’
The PM acknowledged that shortages of some key goods could continue for months, due to the ‘stresses and strains’ of a fast-growing economy.
‘We are going to see a period in which the global economy, particularly the UK economy because of the speed of recovery, is sucking in demand very fast.’
Mr Johnson also rejected calls to allow in thousands of workers to fill other gaps in the labour market.
The pig industry has warned that 120,000 animals may have to be slaughtered and incinerated in the coming days because of a shortage of butchers and abattoir staff.
But the PM questioned whether there would be a ‘great hecatomb of pigs’ – a classical reference to ritual slaughter.
He added: ‘What I think needs to happen is, again, there is a question about the types of jobs that are being done, the pay that is being offered, the levels of automation, the levels of investment in those jobs.’
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors’ Association, hit back last night, saying it was ‘nonsense’ to claim the problems in the sector were all down to low wages.
No promises on ruling out future tax rises
By John Stevens and Claire Ellicott
The PM defied anger from senior Conservatives yesterday as he refused to rule out further tax hikes.
Boris Johnson insisted there is ‘no fiercer and more zealous opponent of unnecessary tax rises’ than himself.
But he declined to give any guarantees in the wake of his manifesto-busting increase in national insurance.
On the first day of the conference, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss argued that instead of hiking taxes, the Government should concentrate on slashing red tape. And Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said the record tax burden has hit ‘the limit’. Their warnings were reinforced by Sir Graham Brady, the shop steward for Tory backbenchers, who said the party needs to set out a plan to cut taxes ‘well before’ the next election.
In an interview to mark the start of the conference, Mr Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Margaret Thatcher would have backed his approach, as he argued their differing approaches to taxation were because her government was not hit by the ‘fiscal meteorite’ of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘We’ve had to look after the British people with £407billion of protection for their jobs, for people’s livelihoods,’ he said. ‘It was most beneficial to the poorest and the neediest in society.’
Asked to rule out further tax hikes, Mr Johnson said: ‘You have no fiercer and more zealous opponent of unnecessary tax rises than me, but we’ve had to deal with a pandemic on a scale which this country has not seen before in our lifetimes and long before.’ He added: ‘If I can possibly avoid it, I do not want to raise taxes again, of course not, nor does Rishi Sunak. Margaret Thatcher would not have borrowed more money now, I’ll tell you that much for free.’
At a fringe event, Miss Truss argued ‘the best way of increasing tax revenues is by seeing economic growth’. The Foreign Secretary said: ‘There’s too much bureaucracy in Britain and we need to use this opportunity of an unfrozen moment, a fresh start to really do things differently. That’s the way to get more money into the exchequer to pay for Covid in my view.’
Sir Graham, chairman of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee, told an event hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies: ‘If we want to go into the next general election with a credible reputation as the party that believes in the lowest taxes that can possibly be achieved in the circumstances, then we can’t, to quote Lynton Crosby, you can’t fatten a cow or a pig on market day. You’ve got to start sooner.’
Meanwhile, Mr Rees-Mogg told an event organised by the Taxpayers’ Alliance: ‘I think we are about at the limit of what taxation can raise.’
HENRY DEEDES: Hair scrunched, like a schoolboy dragged out of bed for matins
Boris Johnson sat hunched in his chair, palms clasped to those meaty great gams, his face an expression of affected seriousness.
Hair scrunched, tie slightly skew-whiff, it was the posture of a schoolboy who’d been dragged out of bed to attend mid-morning matins.
Actually, it was worse than that. The Prime Minister was awaiting his customary interrogation on the Andrew Marr Show ahead of the Tory conference.
It was clear from such truculent body language he was not altogether stoked about being there. The slight weariness in his hooded eyes suggested a man who’d have been happier reclining in his hotel room gnawing on a bacon sarnie.
Mr Marr, one suspects, hardly relishes these encounters with the PM either. Keeping the PM tied to his awnings requires almost physical effort. Whenever Mr Johnson went off on one of his tangents, his interviewer resembled a dog-walker struggling to control an over-excited bullmastiff.
Boris Johnson (pictured) sat hunched in his chair, palms clasped to those meaty great gams, his face an expression of affected seriousness as he awaited his customary interrogation on the Andrew Marr Show ahead of the Tory conference
We began with the brutal murder of Sarah Everard by Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens. The PM said it was important we trust the police. Marr pointed out that was exactly what poor Sarah had done. Would there be a public inquiry? Boris indicated there wouldn’t. Possibly keen not to outsource yet another costly, time-consuming inquiry.
Marr wanted to know what was being done to soothe the crisis on petrol forecourts. The PM insisted he would not ‘pull the big lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’ as a short-term solution, as some people say. For ‘some people’ read Sir Keir Starmer.
Speaking of Sir Keir, Marr had spoken to Manchester mayor Andy Burnham earlier. You should have seen him when he was asked about a story in the morning papers claiming he was preparing to topple Starmer in a year’s time. He wriggled in his chair as if an army of red ants was traipsing up his trouser leg.
Regarding the fuel shortage saga, the real problem, Boris pointed out, was wages. For too long, British companies had been hooked on cheap labour, hence the lack of HGV drivers. It was time to start paying workers properly. Judging by the noises being made here in Manchester, we can expect to hear a lot of that sort of talk this week.
When asked about the murder of Sarah Everard (pictured) by a police officer, Johnson said people should trust the police and told Marr there would not be a public inquiry
As Marr glanced at his notes, Johnson spotted a gap to open the engines and accelerate into boosterism mode. ‘We’re investing massively in skills, we’re investing massively in infrastructure,’ he boasted. This was starting to sound like a curtain-raiser to his conference speech on Wednesday.
Marr’s flappy ears waggled. I sensed a producer was issuing instructions in his earpiece to rein his guest in. ‘I’m sorry, this is getting towards bluster,’ Marr barked at his guest. ‘No, it’s not!’ huffed Boris. Talk turned to pigs. A hundred thousand porkers are due to be destroyed in coming weeks, because of the shortage of abattoir workers. ‘Wotcha gonna do?’ asked Marr.
Boris wearily pointed out food production does involve the killing of large amounts of animals. Er yes, but the end result is normally juicy pork chops arriving on our plates rather than burned to a crisp in an incinerator.
Once again, Boris began blathering about investing in skills: ‘I’d rather do that than raise taxes to subsidise low wages.’ ‘You are raising taxes!’ said Marr. He put it to the PM that he was behaving more like ex-Labour premier Harold Wilson than Margaret Thatcher. ‘You’re talking total nonsense,’ said Boris with a shake of the head. He pointed out neither of those leaders had to face a ‘fiscal meteorite’ of a pandemic.
Would he raise tax rises again? The PM rabbit-punched the air in defiance. ‘I can tell you there is no fiercer and more zealous opponent of unnecessary tax rises than me,’ he barked.
Marr frowned sceptically. I dare say the redoubtable blue-rinse brigade at conference this week will require even more convincing.
Regarding the fuel shortage saga, the real problem, Boris pointed out, was wages. Pictured: Drivers queue for fuel at a Tesco filling station in Newmarket, Suffolk