October 18. 2021. 6:26

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Johnson denies Britain is facing an economic crisis

Boris Johnson preparing his speech in his hotel room on the third day of the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/pool/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson has denied that Britain is facing an economic crisis, dismissing fuel, food and labour shortages as predictable consequences of emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.

But the prime minister will tell his Conservative party conference on Wednesday that he is taking the British economy in a new direction that has been long overdue.

“We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration. And the answer…is not to reach for the same old lever of uncontrolled migration to keep wages low,” he will say in his closing address to the party’s conference in Manchester.

“The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come to this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment or machinery they need to do their jobs.

“And that is the direction in which this country is going – towards a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy that the people of this country need and deserve, in which everyone can take pride in their work and the quality of their work.”

In a series of broadcast interviews on Tuesday, Mr Johnson rejected calls from business leaders to relax restrictions on immigration imposed after Brexit in response to severe difficulties caused by labour shortages.

A shortage of lorry drivers has left filling stations in parts of England empty and farmers on Tuesday began culling hundreds of healthy pigs because of the unavailability of drivers and abattoir workers.

Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the National Farmers Union, said Mr Johnson’s government had shown no empathy towards farmers who were forced to cull healthy animals without selling them for meat.

“I’m afraid the cull has started today. We have got pigs that have been killed on farm because there simply is no way to get them to market. This is a tragic waste of food, which has never happened before,” he told Times Radio.

“It’s absolutely needless, and we have been highlighting this issue to government for many months; the largest processors have been pushing on the door to try and get a migratory solution.”

Foreign labour

Mr Johnson joked about the plight of pig farmers earlier this week, and on Tuesday he blamed businesses for “mainlining” cheap foreign labour for decades. He said they would have to increase wages and productivity in order to shift towards a different model that is not dependent on immigration.

“In a famous phrase, there is no alternative. There is no alternative. The UK has got to and we can do much, much better by becoming a higher wage, higher productivity economy,” he told ITV News.

“We’ve got a fantastic supply chain, fantastically clever people work on our logistics, and they will fix all these problems.”

Mr Johnson said it was not his job to fix all the problems businesses face, and said he was not worried about rising energy prices and labour shortages.

The prime minister also ruled out reversing his decision to eliminate a £20 a week coronavirus supplement to benefits paid to those on the lowest incomes despite warnings that it would drive hundreds of thousands into poverty. “What’s wrong is to take more money in taxation to subsidise low pay,” he told the BBC.