The UK has been struggling with a significant shortage of trainer HGV lorry drivers in recent months, a situation that has led to shortages in supermarkets and fears of petrol running out at forecourts. Brexit detractors have sought to blame Britain’s departure from the European Union as the main reason behind the disruption to the supply chain. But a BBC Newsnight graphic has shown European Union member states have been experiencing greater issues within the haulage sector.
Newsnight reporter David Grossman examined suggestions from Treasury Minister Simon Clark that Brexit played no role in the shortage of lorry drivers.
He said: “It didn’t take long for some to blame the forecourt frenzy on the UK’s departure from the EU.
“Indeed, some claimed it was the only cause. How credible is it for the minister to say that Brexit isn’t a factor?
“In a complex system like the UK economy, any measurable phenomenon is likely to have many causes but let’s start with the evidence, what’s happening in the EU.
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“A report from transport intelligence in August put the total number of HGV vacancies in Europe at 400,000, with the UK facing a shortage of between 60,000 and 76,000.”
Mr Grossman continued: “As we can see, Poland, Germany and France are also badly hit.
“Leaving the EU is clearly not the cause of their shortage.
“But even so, other evidence suggests the UK’s departure from the EU is a significant factor, making our problems worse than those elsewhere.”
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Minister Clarke conceded the UK had an issue to resolve when it comes to lorry drivers but dismissed any attempt to connect Brexit to the shortages.
Speaking to the Today programme on Thursday, he said: “We have a problem which we need to fix but one which is shared by other European countries, too.
“The idea this is about Brexit is to try and take us back into what is really a negative conversation around opportunities foregone.
“If you look at the situation in Germany, in Poland, in France, they share these problems too.”
Mr Clarke said the Government wanted to encourage HGV drivers who had left the profession to come back.
He said: “There’s a write-out campaign, encouraging people who may want to return to being HGV drivers to do just that.”
Asked about a renewed need for European drivers, Mr Clarke replied: “We are clear that we left the European Union for a reason, to control immigration.
“We want to increase the number of HGV drivers being trained in Britain, we have a million vacancies in the labour market at the moment – there’s a huge amount of opportunity out there.”