Mark Drakeford took aim at the Conservative’s solution to the HGV driver shortage in an impassioned speech in the Welsh parliament yesterday.
The first minister of Wales blamed Britain’s exit from the bloc for the shortage of drivers – which has led to supply chain problems and prompted chaos at petrol stations – and mocked the government for saying otherwise.
He said: “It’s hard to imagine a government that has made a more derisory attempt to solve a problem of their own creation.
“Of course we are short of HGV drivers because your government took us out of the European Union where we were supplied by drivers.”
Troops have started training to help deliver petrol supplies as Boris Johnson said he was making preparations to deal with potential problems until “Christmas and beyond”.
The prime minister said the situation on the filling station forecourts is “stabilising” as he urged motorists to go about their business in the normal way.
A decision to put 150 military drivers on standby has been formally approved, meaning they can begin training in case they are required.
A further 150 drivers’ mates are also ready to help out as part of the military effort.
“They’re still on standby but can now start training now it’s approved,” a Government source said.
They will be held in a “state of readiness” and could deployed “in the coming days” if needed, sources said.
Groups including the Road Haulage Association (RHA) have said that Brexit has contributed to a shortage of some 100,000 drivers needed to transport goods, by creating stricter immigration rules stopping people from working in the country.
Coronavirus is also a contributory factor, they say, because people have had to self-isolate throughout the pandemic and there is a backlog of people waiting to take their driving tests – which they could not do during the various lockdown.
As a result, supermarkets and food chains have faced disruption in the last few months and now concerns of fuel shortages has prompted people to panic-buy petrol, despite the government urging them not to do so.
Johnson and his Cabinet announced a move last week to allow 5,000 foreign HGV drivers to temporarily move to the UK in order to try to tackle the UK’s mounting supply chain issues.
But Drakeford criticised Number 10 for its temporary visa scheme, calling it “derisory” and saying it “won’t work”.
“Obviously it doesn’t wash”
After he was heckled, Drakeford added: “I know it suits members of the Conservative Party to cover the lack of their arguments just by making a noise but obviously it doesn’t wash.”
He continued: “When we were in a single market and customs union people were able to move freely across the continent of Europe and to do jobs here in this country. Those people are no longer available to us.
“The idea that people are going to be willing to uproot themselves and come back and work in this country for a matter of weeks only to be told by the UK government they will be discarded again on Christmas Eve when they no longer have any use for them… the arrogance of it is breathtaking but it just isn’t going to work.”
Watch the speech in full below: