U.K. mulls calling in army to help ease gas shortage at pumps

by The Associated Press (APR)

Lines of cars formed at some British gas stations for a fourth day on Monday, as the government mulled sending in the army to help ease supply disruption triggered by a shortage of truck drivers.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel to drive tankers, though the government has not announced whether troops will be deployed.

The association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said Sunday that about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had run out of fuel, as the driver shortage set off a round of petrol panic-buying.

Roland McKibbin, a self-employed electrician in London, said he had had to cancel jobs because he couldn’t get gas.

“I rely on fuel to travel to jobs, no fuel means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get to jobs with my tools,” he said. “So, basically, the panic-buying idiots have lost me income, and directly taken food off the table for my wife and 5-year-old son, because I can’t wire people’s houses from home, unfortunately.”

Short 100k drivers

The haulage industry says the U.K. is short as many as 100,000 truckers, due to a perfect storm of factors including the coronavirus pandemic, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain’s departure from the European Union last year. Post-Brexit immigration rules mean EU citizens can no longer live and work visa-free in Britain, as they could when the U.K. was a member of the bloc.

Several countries, including the United States and Germany, also are experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. But the problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps.

Panic buying

The government says panic buying is worsening the petrol supply problem, and urged people not to hoard fuel. On Sunday, it announced it is temporarily suspending competition laws so fuel firms can share information and target areas where supply is running low.

After weeks of mounting pressure over shortages, the U.K.’s Conservative government announced Saturday that it will issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkey or toys for many British families. The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers starting in October, and another 5,500 for poultry workers.

But that falls far short of the number needed. Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.”

Representatives of European truckers were skeptical that many would want to come to the U.K. for such a short time. The visas are due to expire on Dec. 24.

Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents drivers across the Europe, said the visa plan was “a dead end.”

“I think the EU workers we speak to will not go to the U.K. for a short-term visa to help U.K. out of the (mess) they created themselves,” he told the BBC.