Military could be brought in to combat growing fuel crisis, says Government minister

·3-min read

The military will be deployed to tackle the UK’s growing fuel crisis if needed, a cabinet minister said on Friday.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said soldiers would be brought in to drive petrol trucks or train staff if a lack of HGV drivers continued to hit supplies.

BP was forced to close five petrol stations on Thursday and other retailers have warned of closures this morning.

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the Government would bring in military drivers to drive petrol trucks “right now”, Mr Shapps said: “We will look at every possibility, every way of doing this.

“But this is not as we have seen with previous fuel crises, that there are no drivers or fuel blockades or strikes going on. What’s happening here are a small number of deliveries are being missed.

“With regards to things like whether there’s a role for the military, obviously if there is, if that can actually help we will bring them in. There will be technicalities as to whether they can immediately switch over to commercial trucks ad so on, there could be other roles for them such as in driver testing and training. I am ruling nothing out.”

Despite the growing crisis, Mr Shapps urged motorists not to panic buy.

“The advice would be to carry on as normal and that is BP’s advice as well,” he added.

Motorists were told on Thursday to “keep a quarter of a tank” in their vehicles in case more petrol stations are forced to shut amid a growing fuel crisis.

The issues around petrol supply, on top of problems in the food industry and rising gas prices have led to warnings the Government faces a "winter of discontent".

A combination of factors including Brexit leading to the loss of European Union drivers, the pandemic preventing driving tests and systemic problems in the industry relating to pay and conditions have led to the shortage of qualified HGV drivers.

Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association trade body told BBC’s Newsnight: "We have got a shortage of 100,000 (drivers).

"When you think that everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a lorry - whether it’s fuel or food or clothes or whatever it is - at some point, if there are no drivers to drive those trucks, the trucks aren’t moving and we’re not getting our stuff."

Mr McKenzie added: "I don’t think we are talking about absolutely no fuel or food or anything like that, people shouldn’t panic buy food or fuel or anything else, that’s not what this is about.

"This is about stock outs, it’s about shortages, it’s about a normal supply chain being disrupted."

He said a "very short-term" measure would be to allow drivers onto the shortage occupation list and "seasonal visas" for foreign drivers.

Richard Walker, the managing director of Iceland, said the supermarket chain was around 100 drivers short of what it needed and echoed the call for a temporary change to immigration rules.

"I think the solution - even if it’s temporary - is very, very simple. Let’s get HGV drivers onto the skilled worker list," he said.

The Transport Secretary, appearing alongside Mr Walker on Question Time, said "if that was actually the solution I’m sure we’d move to it very quickly and I don’t rule out anything".

But "this is a global problem, it has come directly as a consequence of coronavirus".

The Government has moved to streamline the testing system and Mr Shapps promised an extra 50,000 tests a year.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: "What we are looking at is a winter of discontent. We have shortages of staff, shortages of supply and shortages of skills."

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