Julian Jessop was speaking after the issue received widespread attention in recent weeks. Among those weighing in were the outspoken Labour peer himself, who last week tweeted: “The Transport Secretary says he would rather have HGV driver shortages, and thus food shortages in the shops, than allow more EU truck drivers. Incredible Brexit blinkers.”
However, Mr Jessop, a former economics fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), said attempts to blame the UK’s decision to quit the EU were misleading.
He told Express.co.uk: “There are many reasons for the shortages of HGV drivers, with Brexit only playing a small part.
“The main factors are due to Covid, including a big fall in the number of driving tests, international travel restrictions and of course the ‘pingdemic’.”
Mr Jessop, who said Brexit was being made a “scapegoat”, added: “New tax rules known as IR35 have also raised the cost of agency drivers.
“And many other countries, including in the rest of Europe, are struggling with a lack of drives as their economies rebound.”
Nevertheless, Mr Jessop acknowledged the lack of EU workers to be one of the main reasons for a shortage of staff in the poultry industry.
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He said: “The Government should relax the rules to make it easier for this sector to recruit from overseas.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the Road Haulage Association made no reference to Brexit.
She said: “Right now we have a shortage of approximately 100,000 truck drivers.
“This, in addition to the effects of the ‘pingdemic’, means that supermarket shelves are not being refilled.
“Food distributors and manufacturers are struggling to cope with demand as the drivers needed to get the goods to the retailers just aren’t there.”
Last month, the Government temporarily extended drivers’ working time rules, from nine to ten hours, allowing them to make longer journeys – but the spokeswoman said this was “not the solution”.
She explained: “Drivers’ hours regulations were originally established as a safety measure to ensure that drivers had sufficient rest time based on the hours worked.
“Extending the hours just means that they will be driving longer for the same amount of rest time.
“We need long term measures, not short term fixes.”
HGV drivers were skilled workers who should be included on the Home Office Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation list, the RHA believes.
The spokeswoman added: “The very drivers that kept us safe and well during the pandemic, ensuring that shop shelves remained stocked and that vital supplies of PPE and medicines reached those front line workers who needed it most.
“So why, as the UK begins its journey back to ‘normal’ are these drivers once again being taken for granted?”
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