British gas stations were crowded with cars for the fourth day, Monday. This was as the government considered sending in the army to ease disruptions caused by shortages of truck drivers.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, stated that training was taking place for military personnel to drive tankers while unions demanded priority for fuel supplies.
Although the government stated that it did not have plans to deploy troops at this time, it was making preparations for what might happen. Monday’s meeting of ministers was to discuss the fuel shortage.
The Petrol Retailers Association represents nearly 5,500 independent shops and stated Sunday that around two-thirds of its members were running out of fuel. This was due to the shortage of truck drivers, which triggered panic buying.
Since Friday, long lines of vehicles have gathered at gas stations across Britain. This has caused traffic jams on busy roads. Drivers waited hours for gas stations, causing their tempers to fray.
The Conservative government claimed that the U.K. had ample fuel stocks and blamed consumer behavior for the problems.
Environment Secretary George Eustice stated that petrol is not available on forecourts because people are buying petrol they don’t need.
Major fuel companies, such as Esso and Shell, stated in a joint statement, that they expect demand for gas to “return back to its normal levels” in the coming days.
The statement stated that “We encourage people to purchase fuel as they normally would”.
Critics urged the government not to cut fuel supplies so that there are no negative spillover effects on police operations, health care and other critical sectors.
British Medical Association’s Dr. Chaand Nagpaul stated that health care workers and essential service staff should have priority access to fuel to ensure they can continue their vital work and provide care for patients.
Christina McAnea (general secretary of Unison trade union) urged the government use emergency powers to designate fuel stations for key workers.
She stated that ambulance crews, nurses and care workers, as well as teaching assistants and police officers, must not be left behind or forced to wait for hours to access a pump.
According to the haulage industry the U.K. has a shortage of up to 100,000 truckers. This is due to a combination of factors such as the coronavirus pandemic and an aging workforce as well as a exodus of foreign workers after Britain’s exit from the European Union last January. EU citizens cannot now live and work in Britain without a visa, unlike when the U.K. was part of the bloc.
Other countries, such as the United States and Germany are also experiencing a shortage in truck drivers. However, the problem is especially evident in Britain where empty supermarket shelves have led to shuttered gas stations and empty gas pumps.
Roland McKibbin is an electrician from London who said that he had to cancel his jobs because he couldn’t get gas.
He stated that no fuel meant that I couldn’t drive and therefore, I couldn’t access jobs with my tools. “So basically, panic-buying idiots cost me my income and took food from the table for my wife, and our 5-year-old son. I couldn’t wire houses because I don’t have the right equipment.”
The government temporarily suspended competition laws in an attempt to alleviate the gas crunch. This allowed fuel companies to share information and pinpoint areas that are low.
It will also bring in military driving examiners in order to clear the backlog of truckers awaiting testing. Eustice stated that they don’t plan to bring in the army for driving, but that it is not in their plans.
He said, “But we always keep a civil contingencies subsection within the army on-standby.”
After weeks of increasing pressure about shortages, the U.K. Conservative government announced that it would issue 5,000 temporary visas to foreign truck drivers in order to prevent Christmas without turkey and toys for many British families.
However, this is far less than the required number. Critics also stated that the visas for 3 months were too short to attract European truck drivers.
Ruby McGregor Smith, president of Confederation of British Industry said that visas are “the equivalent of throwing some water on a bonfire.”
Edwin Atema, a representative of drivers from across Europe, spoke out against the Dutch FNV union’s visa plan.
He told BBC that he believes the EU workers he spoke to would not travel to the U.K. to get a temporary visa to help them out of the mess they have created.
Olaf Scholz (leader of Germany’s Social Democrats), the party that won the election on Sunday, also referred to Britain’s worker shortages as a result of Brexit.
He stated that “The freedom of movement of labor is part the European Union and we worked hard to convince the British not to leave the Union.” “They have now decided differently, and I am hopeful that they will deal with the problems that result from that.”