WHEN HE was the foreign secretary trying to depose the prime minister that gave him the job, Boris Johnson infamously responded to criticism of Brexit by saying 'f*** business'.

Despite that childish comment, the party that claims to represent business anointed him their leader. This week at the party's conference he again showed his contempt for business and even worse a lack of knowledge of basic economics.

Inflation, long viewed by economists of the right and left as the greatest threat to prosperity and stability, was dismissed as a symptom of an economy coming back to life after the pandemic. Inflation driving higher wage demands is not the road to prosperity. The outcome is producing goods at prices that are globally uncompetitive. Even worse was his dismissal of supply chain issues. Johnson has no understanding of how business works in a harshly competitive environment. What is happening now is the inevitable result of slamming the brakes on free movement of labour. This was not used by businesses to make them more profitable, but to allow them to compete.

This applies in particular to food and it is why supply shortages will not be easily solved. Migrant workers in the EU are in demand and have no interest in short term visas to work in the UK. The only alternative is to use people here, but people will not go to the jobs migrant workers did and it is not about the wages. These are hard, often unpleasant jobs that demand skills, and migrant labour came because local people would not do the jobs. That is not going to change.

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Talk of moving the economy to a high wage, high tech basis is a fantasy. Others are further down that road and for farming and food the Johnson vision for the economy can only deliver one result. Even if people can be persuaded to work on farms and in food processing at higher wages the key question is how the industry can afford higher costs. No part of the food industry is particularly profitable, so higher wages can only mean higher costs, driving the inflationary spiral.

The fatal flaw in the Johnson argument that this is a good economic outcome is that the UK economy does not exist in isolation. Our nearest and biggest competitor in food, Ireland, has a vast pool of EU migrant labour underpinning its food processing sector. The same applies to every EU member state and to just about every major food processing country around the world. Unless consumers can somehow be persuaded that higher costs and higher prices are a good idea this can only go one way. More imported food, fewer opportunities for UK suppliers and an even greater drying up of export opportunities because suppliers cannot compete on price.

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The Conservative party of a few years ago would have understood this, but today it seems to look down on once great traditional industries. Those include farming and food processing. These are not part of the high tech economic fantasy Johnson was selling to cover up the flaws in the post-Brexit supply chain. If these sectors continue to struggle with their labour supply it will play well with the government's desire to base trade deals around minimal tariffs. Higher prices will never be popular but in cheap imports the government has a win-win solution that could make trade deals easier to secure. That this strategy can be pursued says a lot about the inability of opposition parties at Westminster to kick a ball into an open goal right in front of them.

They are allowing fantasy economics to prevail and allowing decisions to be influenced by the often racist hostility towards migrant workers generated by the Brexit campaign Boris Johnson led. These were not people to be denigrated, but who should have been seen as the behind the scenes workers that delivered an efficient, productive and highly effective UK food industry.

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Instead what we are facing today is a situation where the government is seeking to shift the blame for supply chain shortages onto 'greedy capitalists' in the food industry wanting to 'exploit' migrant labour to keep down wages. The reality is that this was the only labour willing to do the job and the only way to be globally competitive. To suggest otherwise is perverse – and another test of whether it is really is possible to fool all of the people all of the time.