With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the UK openly closed its borders to European countries in all respects, resulting in problems for people travelling to and from the UK, including HGV drivers. Also, the new immigration law does not accept low-skilled workers, and some low-skilled jobs face a shortage of service personnel. This seems to be the beginning of many problems in the UK, one of which is a shortage of fuel.
New Immigration Law in the UK
A key outcome of the Brexit vote implemented at the start of 2021, when the UK and European leaders introduced major parts of a new migration system, was halting free movement to and from the United Kingdom and imposing a new visa regime. Travel has been limited by the pandemic since 2020, however, so it has been difficult to assess the changes brought by this new law.
After Brexit and as coronavirus mobility restrictions have eased, the United Kingdom finds itself at an inflection point. Its decades-long transition from prioritising migrants, from the former colonial empire to European workers and students, has been interrupted. Yet fundamental economic dynamics are likely to reassert themselves once the public health crisis subsides, and the United Kingdom will likely remain a country of net immigration going forward. The new immigration regime is likely to lead to changes in the flow of people to the United Kingdom, especially from elsewhere in Europe, and the processing of goods. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the salience of immigration in public debate since its high point in 2016, and a steady increase in positive attitudes toward immigration. So as the United Kingdom enters this new era for migration, it is doing so with a changed political dynamic.
Shortage of Workers
More serious are the shortages of workers who deliver key products and services, causing bottlenecks in the economy and limiting economic activity in other sectors. Shortages of doctors are more serious than shortages of bar staff. Shortages of HGV drivers can cause bottlenecks in the economy when shortages of bar staff do not. Even where shortages are not of great concern from the perspective of the economy as a whole, they may have serious implications for the affected businesses.
For some of the sectors currently complaining about shortages – agriculture, food processing, hospitality – the basic problem is poor pay and/or conditions which mean these sectors struggle to compete for local workers with other sectors and look to the government to provide them with a source of migrant labour with fewer options. In the case of HGV drivers, the appropriate licence is needed and there seems to be a shortage of the suitably qualified, but there may also be some issues with pay/conditions; a former editor of Trucking Magazine claims there are 600k people in the UK with the necessary licence who do not drive for a living. Brexit has also played a role. Although estimates that the number of migrants in the UK fell by 1.3m have now been largely discredited, some European workers have returned home.
The pandemic has disrupted one a main data source (the Labour Force Survey), so there is more uncertainty around the estimates than normal. But the latest ONS figures suggest the employment of EU nationals fell from 2.4m in Jan-Mar 2020 to 2.2m in April-June 2021. The fall is among A8 (944k to 823k) and A2 (399k to 278k) nationals. The post-Brexit immigration rules do make it more difficult, impossible sometimes, to recruit new workers from the EU. Many businesses warned that they would need to pass the extra costs from higher salaries on to consumers, in particular in construction and logistics. Critical utilities such as the transportation of chemicals needed to treat water, and in health sector supply chains, were also at risk.
The CBI has called for ministers to add HGV drivers to the shortage occupations list, which can use migrant workers, with limited and temporary access to visas for overseas employees to fill positions until British workers can be trained. Also for HGV drivers one other important factor seems to be HMRCs IR35 rule that has forced many drivers to swap (bogus) self-employment for employee status resulting in falls in income of up to 25%.
Shortages of workers in the wake of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have sown disarray through some sectors of the economy, disrupting deliveries of fuel and medicines and leaving more than 100,000 pigs backed up on farms. The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said members reported on Friday that 26% of pumps were dry, 27% had just one fuel type in stock and 47% had enough petrol and diesel. “Independents, which total 65% of the entire network, are not receiving enough deliveries of fuel compared with other sectors such as supermarkets,” Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retail Association, told Reuters.
Ministers say the world is facing a global shortage of truck drivers and that they are working to ease the crisis. They deny that the situation is a consequence of an exodus of EU workers following Britain’s departure from the bloc, and have dismissed concerns the country is heading towards a winter of shortages and power cuts. Though there are shortages of lorry drivers in other countries, EU members have not seen fuel shortages. Retailers said more than 2,000 petrol stations were dry and Reuters reporters across London and southern England said dozens of pumps were still closed.
While some drivers were still experiencing difficulties finding fuel, and long waits to purchase it, suppliers said on Wednesday that there are “signs that the situation at the pumps has begun to improve.” “We remain confident that the situation will stabilise further in the coming days,” companies including BP plc, Royal Dutch Shell plc and Exxon Mobil Corp said in a joint statement. Earlier in the day, the UK government said it was deploying its reserve tanker fleet to ease the crisis. Around 150 army drivers will be used within “days” to help boost deliveries, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said.
Also the government has already caved in to industry demands to issue 5,000 short-term visas to truck drivers, yet business leaders and unions said it would not be enough. Fuel supplies have run dry at numerous sites around the country, threatening the ability of key workers to do their jobs. The risk is that a prolonged fuel crisis will damage the post-pandemic recovery, putting more strain on already stretched supply lines.
With Britain leaving the European Union, many workers who were able to move freely across borders were barred from free movement. Now that the UK is facing a labour shortage, new immigration laws have been added to prevent the entry and residence of low-skilled workers, resulting in many services that require low skills, including hospitals, agriculture, social services, drivers, etc, being short-staffed as people are banned from immigrating to the UK.
There is a severe shortage of drivers, which has led to fuel shortages. Despite attempts to persuade the government to ease immigration rules, it appears to have reached an impasse. Although some politicians keep talking about it, it has created a very serious problem for the UK. The arrival of the army to drive fuel tankers to petrol stations shows that this has become a very complicated and sensitive issue and the army is needed to bring it under control. These shortages do not only disrupt refueling but also agriculture since it is the harvest season and farmers face a shortage of workers and lorries to transport their produce.