Long queues were seen at petrol stations across the UK as panic buying has led to a shortage of fuel countrywide. This comes as some petrol stations announced supply problems as a result of a shortfall of HGV drivers.
But the transport secretary has said there would be no fuel queues if motorists filled up as normal as he accused a haulage group of triggering the “manufactured situation”.
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Grant Shapps insisted there was “plenty of fuel” and urged the public to be “sensible” as some retailers were forced to shut their pumps and ration sales in the face of long lines at petrol stations for a third day.
The supply crisis has been caused by a shortage of fuel tanker drivers.
The cabinet minister’s comments came as the government announced a temporary visa scheme that will allow 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to be brought in from abroad on three-month contracts to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys in the run up to Christmas and tackle fuel delivery problems.
However, business leaders have already warned the package of measures “will not be enough”.
Shapps added, “I think the important thing to know is that within the country, at the six refineries and 47 storage facilities, there is plenty of fuel, there is no shortage of fuel within the country.”
“So the most important thing is actually that if people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won’t have queues and you won’t have shortages at the pump either,” he continued.
The transport secretary also rounded on a haulage trade body, which he said had helped “spark” the crisis through “irresponsible briefings” to the public and claimed it was “desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries”.
Although Shapps did not name the group, The Mail on Sunday reported a government source stating the Road Haulage Association was “entirely responsible for this panic and chaos”.
Denying the government had ignored warnings for months about a looming driver shortage, Shapps stated, “Let’s not pretend this is a UK-specific problem, it’s not.”
“In Europe, for example in Poland, the shortage is 123,000 drivers, so there isn’t just one simple new point to axe off, there isn’t one simple solution to this, but we have, despite having had shortages, managed to ensure that petrol was still getting to petrol stations, food getting to the shops,” he added.
“I’m afraid there has been some pretty irresponsible briefing out by one of the road haulage associations, which has helped to spark a crisis, and that’s very, very unhelpful, it’s counterproductive,” he noted.
“I know that they’re desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries, I know that’s been their ask all along,” he continued.
“We actually think that it’s important that this country can train people, that people can do a proper day’s work, that they’re paid properly for that work, and that the long-term solution cannot be undercutting British salaries and having a constant vicious cycle of not being able to train people here and employ them on decent salaries,” he said.
Shapps added, “We need to ensure that people are reassured now that this rather manufactured situation has been created, because there’s enough petrol in the country.”
Pressed over who had caused it, he said, “There was a meeting which took place about 10 days ago, a private meeting in which one of the haulage associations decided to leak the details to media, and that has created, as we have seen, quite a large degree of concern as people naturally react to those things.”
“The good news is there is plenty of fuel, the bad news is if everyone carries on buying it when they don’t need it then we will continue to have queues,” he continued.
“We just appeal to people to be sensible, fill up when you normally would,” he noted, adding that “we’ve got this big package in place today in order to help alleviate the pressure and we ask people to do their part”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested visas could be needed for 100,000 lorry drivers, rather than the 5,000 announced by ministers, to tackle the shortage.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, “We have to issue enough visas to cover the number of drivers that we need.”
But some European lorry drivers do not think many will think it is worth coming to the UK just for three months.
Imran Mustafa, who moved to Barcelona from Pakistan eight years ago and has been a haulage driver for three years, said, “It’s a temporary visa and it’s for a very small time period.”
Mehmet Ozalp, a 28-year-old driver from Mersin in Turkey, who has recently moved to Germany, added, “I would only move for at least six months and above. If you’re moving thousands of kilometres, it shouldn’t be just for three months.”