October 18. 2021. 5:00

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Britain’s petrol supply ‘improving’ as Johnson denies Brexit is root cause

A petrol station in London. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA


Britain’s petrol retailers have said the supply to the pumps is improving but more than one in three filling stations were out of fuel on Tuesday and the government predicted that queues would continue for a number of days.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the situation was stabilising and called on motorists to hold back from buying more fuel than they need. “We are starting to see situation improve, supplies coming back on in the normal way,” he said. “I urge everyone to go about their business in the normal way.”

Although the supply of petrol to the pumps has improved since the weekend, when more than two in three filling stations had run out, there were long queues at forecourts across the country on Tuesday. Labour leader Keir Starmer joined calls from unions for key workers to be given priority access to fuel stations to ensure that they could continue to get to work.

“The government has reduced the country to chaos as we crash from crisis to crisis. And the government is not gripping this. I spoke to the haulage sector this morning, to the businesses that are absolutely in the middle of this, and they are beyond frustrated.

“And these were their words – they said, it’s a government that is denying there’s a problem, then blaming somebody else and then coming up with a half-baked plan. What I would do is give priority to key workers this week, and I would issue enough visas for lorry drivers for long enough. At the moment, there aren’t enough visas,” he told the BBC.

Issuing visas

The government has agreed to issue 5,000 three-month visas for lorry drivers from the EU but Britain needs tens of thousands of drivers to make up for those who have left the country, retired or are awaiting driving tests. Frank Huster, chief executive of the German Freight Forwarding and Logistics Association, said drivers who left Britain after Brexit would not be tempted back with short-term visas.

“The labour market on the European continent has gratefully accepted these workers – they are now lost to re-employment in the United Kingdom, ” he told Reuters. “The new UK visa regulations – especially the temporary ones – will not change this.”

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said the visa scheme was derisory and exploitative and showed the arrogance of Mr Johnson’s government.

“It is hard to imagine a government that has made a more derisory attempt to solve a problem of their own creation,” he told the Senedd in Cardiff. “The idea that people are going to be willing to uproot themselves and come back to this country for a matter of weeks only to be told by the UK government they will be discarded again on Christmas Eve when they no longer have a use for them is simply ... the arrogance of it is breathtaking.”

Mr Johnson has dismissed that there is any connection between Britain’s supply chain problems and Brexit but he indicated on Tuesday that he expected shortages to continue for a number of months.

“What we want to do is to make sure we have all the preparations needed to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in supply for petrol stations but all parts of the supply chain,” he said.

“We want to make sure that as the economy continues to recover and we continue to see the global recovery suck in demand of all kinds, like the lorry drivers, that the UK is prepared.”