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UK could face food shortages due to lorry driver crisis

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Lorries queue in at the border control of the Port of Dover in Dover, Britain, January 15, 2021. (Reuters photo)

The United Kingdom could face food shortages due to a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit which resulted in a shortage of over 100,000 truck drivers, industry leaders have warned.

The country could see gaps on supermarket shelves this summer and an "unimaginable" collapse of supply chains, they predicted in a letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on June 23.

The leaders urged Johnson to personally intervene to allow access to European labor by introducing temporary worker visas for HGV drivers and adding them to a "shortage occupation list".

However, a government spokesman said given the country's new post-Brexit immigration system, the industry ought to try to hire local workers instead.

"Supermarkets are already reporting that they are not receiving their expected food stocks and, as a result, there is considerable wastage," said Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, which co-ordinated the letter.

Britain's supermarket industry, led by Tesco (TSCO.L), Sainsbury's (SBRY.L), Asda and Morrisons (MRW.L), are heavily dependent on an army of drivers and warehouse workers to bring in fresh produce from the fields of Europe.

Prior to the UK’s departure from the European Union, Britain's logistics industry had been one of the most vocal, warning that truck drivers would not be willing to come to the country should checks and friction increase at the border.

Since the coronavirus began to spread in the UK, many European drivers living in Britain returned to their country of origin, worsening the shortage.

In their letter, the industry leaders said intervention from government was now the only way to avert "critical supply chains failing at an unprecedented and unimaginable level".

They argued that the approaching summer holidays, the continued unlocking of the economy and increases in demand for food and drink caused by hot weather and major sporting events would aggravate the problem. They added that Christmas preparation would also be hit.

In response a government spokesman said, "Our new points-based immigration system makes clear employers should focus on investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment, rather than relying on labor from abroad."

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