There is “no good reason” why the UK cannot train enough lorry drivers and fruit pickers among its own citizens to reduce immigration, Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the National Conservatism Conference on Monday.
Britain’s horticulture industry has complained of labor shortages since the country left the EU, a trend that was exacerbated by the COVID
-19 pandemic, the BBC reported. The government responded by increasing the number of temporary visas for seasonal agricultural workers by 15,000 this year.
However, on the opening day of the three-day conference in London, Braverman told delegates that Brexit will allow the development of a high-skilled, high-wage economy “that is less dependent on low-skilled foreign labor.”
She argued it is “not racist” for a nation to want to control its own borders, and the UK must not “forget how to do things for ourselves.”
"There is no good reason why we can’t train up enough HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers, butchers or fruit pickers," she said.
Labour leader Keir Starmer condemned the home secretary for her comments.
Speaking during a during a meeting of Labour MPs and peers, he said: “When Suella Braverman says that British workers have forgotten how to do things for themselves, it’s nothing new. It’s how they (the Conservatives) respond to everything: Duck responsibility, blame everyone else.
“She’s told us their vision of the future of work in this country: Let them pick fruit. Well, our party will never have such low ambitions for working people.”
Starmer described the National Conservatism Conference, which was organized by a US-based right-wing group, as a “Mad Hatter’s tea party” attended by politicians who have a “national dislike of this country and its people, from north to south.”
According to the Centre for Policy Studies, the UK’s net migration figure for 2022, which will be revealed next week, is expected to be at least 700,000. Braverman has previously said her “ultimate aspiration” is to reduce the number to fewer than 100,000.
Some leading Conservatives believe that increased immigration is required in the short term to improve economic growth. Nigel Huddleston, the UK minister of state for international trade, told Times Radio that “every now and again we also need more people to come into the country” but the “key thing” is to maintain control.
“In the long term, we need immigration to come down because that’s what has been causing some challenges in local areas for a long period of time,” he said.