Famously optimistic British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is again looking on the bright side, telling his ruling Conservative Party on Wednesday that good economic times are ahead and there will be no going back to what he said was the low-wage, high-immigration model of the pre-Brexit U.K.
Speaking to the party’s annual policy conference, Mr. Johnson dismissed recent strains to the economy — including empty gas stations for a lack of truck drivers and massive pig culls for a lack of butchers — as growing pains toward a new, high-wage, self-reliant Britain.
“The answer to the present stresses and strains, which are mainly a function of growth and economic revival, is not to reach for that same old lever of uncontrolled immigration to keep wages low,” Mr. Johnson said his address in the northern English city of Manchester, delivered to a packed room of largely supportive party members.
“The answer is to control immigration to allow people of talent to come to this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people in skills, and in the equipment, the facilities and machinery … they need to do their jobs.”
Mr. Johnson unveiled few new policy proposals in his address but made it clear he was pressing ahead with an agenda that has won the Conservatives a sizable governing majority in Parliament and left the Labor Party opposition scrambling to find a line of attack.
The speech also offered little concrete relief for business groups, who say Mr. Johnson’s government has not done enough to prepare the economy and the labor force for life after Brexit.
But the address did have choice words for the Labor Party opposition, which Mr. Johnson said lacks even a basic program to deal with “decades of dither and drift” in dealing with the country’s economic challenges.
He accused the opposition of lacking his faith in what a newly freed Britain can accomplish.
“In their souls, they don’t like leveling up, they like leveling down,” he said. “They like decapitating the tall poppies and taxing until the pips squeak.”