Britain to use army in bid to alleviate fuel crisis

British soldiers to start driving fuel tankers to replenish empty pumps amid shortages

British soldiers will start driving fuel tankers soon to replenish empty pumps after days of shortages, despite prime minister Boris Johnson saying the situation was improving.

Britain has been gripped by a rush of panic buying of fuel for almost a week that has left pumps dry across major cities, after oil companies warned they did not have enough tanker drivers to move petrol and diesel from refineries to filling stations there.

On Wednesday business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said 150 soldiers had been mobilised, and would be driving tankers within a few days.

“The last few days have been difficult, we’ve seen large queues. But I think the situation is stabilising, we’re getting petrol into the forecourts. I think we’re going to see our way through this,” Mr Kwarteng said.


He said the government’s reserve tanker fleet, which numbers 80 vehicles according to a 2019 assessment, would be operating by later in the day, driven by civilians, to help deliver fuel across Britain.

Mr Johnson has sought to quell concerns, saying supplies were returning to normal while also urging people not to panic buy.

A shortage of about 100,000 drivers has sown chaos through Britain’s supply chains and raised the spectre of empty shelves and price increases at Christmas.

Asked if he could guarantee that there would not be problems in the run-up to the busy festive retail period, Mr Kwarteng said: “I’m not guaranteeing anything. All I’m saying is that, I think the situation is stabilising.”

Priority access

On Wednesday, signs were up at some sites announcing no fuel was available.

The gridlock has sparked calls for doctors, nurses and other essential workers to be given priority access to fuel, a move Mr Johnson has resisted.

Industry groups said the worst of the shortages seemed to be in London, the southeast and other English cities. Fights have broken out at fuel sites as drivers jostled.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent retailers who account for about two-thirds of all the 8,380 UK filling stations, said on Tuesday that 37 per cent of its members' stations were out of fuel.

The shortages have added to an air of chaos in the world’s fifth-largest economy. A spike in European wholesale natural gas prices has also tipped UK energy companies into bankruptcy.

Britain left the EU single market at the start of this year, preventing hauliers from recruiting drivers in the bloc. To tackle the subsequent shortage of drivers, the government has said it will issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign drivers, a measure it had previously ruled out.

“What we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through until Christmas and beyond, not just in supplying the petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain,” Mr Johnson said.

Hauliers, petrol stations and retailers say there are no quick fixes as the shortfall of drivers is so acute, and transporting fuel demands training and licensing. European drivers may also be reluctant to take up the visa offer, which only lasts until December 24th. – Reuters