British ministers and the fuel industry try to reassure public about petrol supplies

London mayor Sadiq Khan calls for some petrol stations to be reserved for the exclusive use of key workers

British ministers and the fuel industry have sought to reassure the public about petrol supplies as pumps ran dry in cities across the country because of a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers. Environment minister George Eustice blamed motorists for the problem, saying there would be no queues at forecourts if people stopped panic buying.

“The most important thing is that people buy petrol as they normally would. There isn’t a shortage. There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts, but actually that is quite limited,” he told journalists.

“The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol they don’t need.”

The fuel industry echoed the minister's message in a joint statement from 10 of the biggest players, including BP, Shell and Esso, predicting that the situation would return to normal within days.


“There is plenty of fuel at UK refineries and terminals, and as an industry we are working closely with the government to help ensure fuel is available to be delivered to stations across the country.

As many cars are now holding more fuel than usual, we expect that demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, easing pressures on fuel station forecourts. We would encourage everyone to buy fuel as they usually would. We remain enormously grateful to all forecourt staff and HGV drivers for working tirelessly to maintain supplies during this time,” they said.


As the Prison Officers Association reported that prison guards were unable to go to work because of fuel shortages and teachers warned of a return to online lessons, London mayor Sadiq Khan called for some petrol stations to be reserved for the exclusive use of key workers.

“As the current reductions in fuel delivery affect petrol stations across the capital, it is essential that key workers are able to get fuel to travel to work and provide the services our city needs.

“In the fuel crisis of September 2000, the government brought in rules designating specific filling stations for essential workers, enabling the capital to keep moving. The government must urgently look at taking the necessary steps putting such measures in place so that those key workers who have to drive to work can do so,” he said.

Despite the government’s assertion that there is no shortage of fuel, ministers have been preparing contingency plans if the situation worsens, including deploying the army to deliver fuel to forecourts. They have lifted competition law restrictions to allow fuel companies to co-ordinate with one another by sharing information about supplies and shortages in different parts of the country.

The government has also agreed to issue 5,000 three-month visas for HGV drivers from Europe, and to fast-track tests for British drivers who want to return to the business.


Asked in Berlin if Germany would send HGV drivers to Britain, Social Democrat leader Olaf Scholz suggested that Brexit was at the root of Britain's problem.

"The free movement of labour is part of the European Union. We worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the union. Now they decided different and I hope they will manage the problems coming from that," he said.

“It might have something to do with the question of wages. If you understand that being a trucker is really something that many people like to be and you find not enough this has something to do with working conditions, and this is something that has to be thought about.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times