British army tanks have been sent out to deliver fuel to dry petrol stations as the United Kingdom grapples with an historic shortage of lorry drivers – linked to Brexit visa rules – that has seen turbulent scenes of violence and looting.
Panic has intensified at service stations, where drivers are queuing to stock up on as much fuel as possible, while there are reports of thieves cutting holes directly into people’s cars to syphon out petrol.
Supply shortfalls in supermarkets, pubs and fast food chains such as McDonald’s and KFC in recent days illustrate the difficulties suffered by the British people as a result of both the pandemic and Brexit.
Abounding images of closed petrol pumps have made the crisis even more palpable.
'Brexit to blame'
“This is certainly a consequence of the UK's exit from the European Union, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson would have done well to avoid,” said French newspaper L’Express.
Britain revamped its immigration rules after quitting the EU in January 2020, prioritising its domestic workforce over cheaper, low-skilled foreign labour.
Now, Britain’s Road Haulage Association, a trade group dedicated to transport operators, estimates the country needs an additional 100,000 drivers to shore up the fuel supply chain.
It says the industry has lost 20,000 European drivers due to Brexit, while the pandemic has forced the cancellation of 40,000 driver training tests.
While the Covid crisis forced many foreign truck drivers to return home, complex Brexit immigration rules have made it harder for EU drivers to get back into Britain.
RHA director Rod McKenzie told Channel 4 news the lorry driver shortage was “really critical” with the UK “now in peril in terms of fuel supplies”.
In an effort to get things moving again, the UK said it would grant temporary visas to more than 10,000 foreign truck drivers and food industry workers.
Meanwhile the UK Petroleum Industry Association has called for calm, promising that fuel is still reaching the vast majority of consumers.
It has advised people to keep purchasing fuel as they normally would.