Boris Johnson does not rule out shortages at Christmas - but says it will be 'considerably better' than last year

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Boris Johnson has not ruled out shortages continuing until Christmas, only saying that the festive period will be "considerably better" than last year.

The prime minister was speaking amid a continuing fuel crisis that has seen long queues for fuel amid panic buying and which, from Monday, will see army tanker drivers delivering fuel to forecourts to help alleviate the issues.

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"I'm very confident this Christmas will be considerably better," Mr Johnson said in a pool clip with broadcasters during a visit to a youth club in Manchester.

When it was put to him that this was a low bar considering Christmas was cancelled last year for millions of families because of COVID-19 restrictions, Mr Johnson replied: "This country leads the world, actually, in logistics and supply chains. We've got very good supply chains.

"Where there are issues that we can help with, we will do everything we can."

Asked if Britons could see empty shelves at Christmas given the current supply chain issues that the economy is experiencing, the PM said: "We are going to see a period in which the global economy, particularly the UK economy because of the speed of recovery, is sucking in demand very fast."

Meanwhile, one of his top ministers has said Mr Johnson cannot be blamed if there are shortages at Christmas.

Speaking at a Daily Telegraph fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: "I don't believe in a command and control economy, so I don't believe the Prime Minister is responsible for what's in the shops.

"This is why we have a free enterprise economy, I'm sure that the goods will be delivered into our shops."

The PM's latest comments come after he insisted in a BBC interview that the fuel crisis is "abating", despite reports there are still long queues for petrol in some parts of the country.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told Sky News there is now a "North-South divide".

"From the Midlands up north and into Scotland, the state of the forecourts is that less than 10% are dry and most are reporting a return to normal business and less surge buying," he said.

"But in London and the South East it's way over 20%, I think probably over 25% by the time we've concluded the data. That is illustrated by so many of the independent sites remaining dry today."

A shortage of HGV drivers estimated at more than 100,000 is having a knock-on effect across the economy, with empty supermarket shelves reported and restaurant chains experiencing shortages as well.

Mr Johnson acknowledged during his earlier BBC interview that he had known about issues in the UK's haulage industry for months.

Asked about a warning from the Road Haulage Association in June that a major crisis was in the offing because of the driver shortage, the PM said: "We have known about shortages in road haulage long before then. They have been a chronic feature of the way the road haulage industry has worked."

Mr Johnson said in his pool clip that the government would allow "controlled immigration" to tackle the current supply chain issues.

But he insisted the UK would not be going back to what he characterised as a "low skilled, low wage economy" underpinned by "uncontrolled immigration".

The PM said this led to the UK "having comparatively very low productivity, very low wages and that's not the way forward because we should be a high skill, high productivity economy".

He added: "We will take sensible measures, and we will use controlled immigration as one of the things like any sensible government would."

And when asked if he would issue more temporary visas, Mr Johnson said he would keep "all options on the table" to tackle the crisis.

The PM said he would keep "all options on the table" to fix the delivery difficulties being witnessed in the UK.

Why is Europe short of lorry drivers and how bad is the crisis?

"We'll take each step as it comes, we're there to support industries that are having difficulties," he said.

"But it is fundamentally up to them to work out the way ahead."

A total of 300 fuel tanker drivers will be able to come to the UK from overseas "immediately" under a bespoke temporary visa which will last until March.

Some 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initially announced three months and will last from late October to the end of February.

And a total of 5,500 poultry workers will also be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.

But business groups have said the emergency visa schemes do not go far enough, with the UK estimated to have a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

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