With the UK fuel shortage on Friday leading to panic buying and forecourt operator EG Group imposing a £30 limit at the pump, the government has turned to foreign lorry drivers to alleviate the crisis.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps have rowed back from initial opposition, and Whitehall is now preparing to issue thousands of temporary visas to truckers from outside the UK.
The UK fuel shortage has not been caused by a shortage of fuel in itself, but by a shortage of HGV drivers to bring it to petrol stations.
This dearth has been created by the perfect storm of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic preventing thousands of aspiring truckers from gaining their licences and waning interest in trucking as a career, a trend dating back many years. The haulage industry estimates that it needs 100,000 drivers to plug the gap.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is behind using temporary visas, but ministers such as Mr Shapps, Ms Patel and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng have been unconvinced and believe the answer lies in haulage firms improving driver pay and working conditions.
With the time it takes to train to new drivers, this is a long-term fix — and such is the level of panic buying, time is of the essence.
Forecourt operator EG Group late Friday imposed a £30 limit on purchases of fuel at its 389 petrol stations, with the exception of HGV drivers and emergency services.
“This is a company decision to ensure all our customers have a fair chance to refuel and to enable our sites to carry on running smoothly,” the group said in a statement.
“We kindly ask everyone visiting our sites to treat our colleagues, supply chain partners and customers with respect during these very challenging times.
“All of EG Group's UK sites remain open and operational to serve customers.”
Before EG imposed the limit, Britain's motorists were advised by the Petrol Retailers Association to “keep a quarter of a tank” of fuel in their vehicles.
Having shut some petrol stations on Thursday, BP on Friday limited deliveries to many of its forecourts while Shell said it was experiencing “increased demand for fuel” and adjusting its “delivery schedules to ensure sufficient supplies".
If visas are successful in combating the crisis, they could be deployed in other industries where there are labour shortages, The Times reported, naming meat processing and agriculture as possible candidates.