Boris Johnson has urged Britons to be ‘very confident’ in the economy and pledged this Christmas will be better than last year’s damp squib, ahead of the first in-person Conservative Party conference for two years.
The Prime Minister also insisted there will be no ‘uncontrolled immigration‘ to solve the HGV crisis, as he tried to cool fears over the ongoing fuel chaos.
Mr Johnson’s rallying message comes as the government faces further pressure over a number of other issues, including the end of the furlough scheme, a rise in the energy price cap and the scrapping of a Universal Credit uplift worth £20-a-week to millions of families.
However, just hours before thousands of Tory members descend on Manchester, he told the Times he is relaxed and adamant a brighter end to the year awaits for Britons.
Other topics the Prime Minister discussed included:
- The success of Britain’s vaccine rollout – the fastest in Europe
- The reasons behind two of the biggest tax rises in a generation
- How it is a ‘disgrace’ that investment has previously focused only on London and the south east
- Why even though 5,000 visas have been offered to foreign lorry drivers, there won’t be any more
Boris Johnson has urged Britons to be ‘very confident’ in the economy and pledged this Christmas will be better than last year’s damp squib, ahead of the first in-person Conservative Party conference for two years
An HGV used for lorry driver training and driving tests is seen at National Driving Centre in Croydon
In a bid to ease the crisis at the pumps of recent days, the government is deploying military drivers to deliver fuel to forecourts from Monday.
Almost 200 military personnel – including 100 drivers – have been undertaking training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation at petrol stations, which ministers insist is stabilising.
The Government also announced that a temporary visa scheme for nearly 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers that was due to expire on December 24 will now be extended to the end of February, following criticism of its attractiveness to drivers.
However, Mr Johnson insisted this was a short-term measure and that he wanted the UK to progress with improvements in productivity by investing in people, skills and capital technology.
‘We’re not going to intervene and set pay and conditions but the facts speak for themselves,’ he told the paper.
‘What we’re saying is that you can’t simply reach for the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’ in order to avoid making crucial investments in your company.’
The disruption is part of an ongoing ‘EFFing crisis’ – made up of energy chaos, fuel shortages and empty food shelves, which is expected to last for months.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said there needs to be an ‘improvement’ in the situation in the coming days and that the PM stands ready to review matters if there is any deterioration.
But even if the fuel debacle is resolved, ministers expect problems in other areas to continue in the months ahead.
A massive increase in the wholesale cost of gas has prompted a handful of energy firms to collapse, with consumers facing skyrocketing bills this winter.
A huge shortfall in HGV driver numbers is already hitting supply chains, with empty shelves in some supermarkets, as industry chiefs predict there will be further food and potentially even toy shortages this Christmas.
A shortage of food processing workers and butchers is adding to the disruption, with farmers warning they are running out of room because of growing animal numbers and they could soon be forced to start a ‘mass cull’.
An aerial shot shows the extent of the queues for fuel this morning at a Tesco petrol station in Ely, Cambridgeshire
A learner lorry driver as he prepares to reverse an HGV at a centre in Croydon
Mr Johnson swerved a question over whether he could guarantee shelves would be stocked over Christmas, but insisted it would be significantly better than last December, when he told families they should stay away from other loved ones due to a surge in Covid cases.
What I confidently predict is that this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas,’ he said.
‘It will be considerably jollier and more festive. The yuletide spirit will flow in much greater abundance.’
Amid concerns over how Britain’s economy would bounce back from the devastating effects of the pandemic over the last 18 months, the PM called for confidence, insisting once global markets start moving at a greater pace, things will improve.
He also defended recent tax rises, coming at a time when families are feeling the pinch more the ever due to hiked energy bills and the end of furlough, insisting the public want to build back better post-Covid, which requires investment.
His vision of a high-wage economy is at the heart of plans to ‘level up’ the country, as he bemoaned the historic north-south divide and how investment has long been centred solely on London and the south east.
‘It’s madness so many parts of this country don’t have the basic transport infrastructure that they need,’ he said.
‘We can fix that. That will make a huge difference to people’s prospects.
‘Very often the ability to get the right bus connection from your home to your place of work can make all the difference to the job you have.’