UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted there was no petrol shortage and that drivers should fill up as normal, as industry leaders said a plan to issue 10,000 emergency visas was insufficient.
A visa scheme has been set up to allow 5,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers and 5,500 poultry hands to work in the UK until Christmas Eve, in an attempt to keep supermarket shelves stocked and tackle delivery difficulties at petrol stations.
Mr Shapps accused haulage industry leaders of “manufacturing the crisis” so that they can employ cheaper drivers from Europe.
The UK is suffering supply chain problems with some empty shelves in supermarkets, exacerbated by a shortage of HGV drivers, sparking fears that a petrol shortage is around the corner.
Those fears prompted people to spend hours queuing for petrol and on Sunday Mr Shapps said there was enough petrol if drivers filled up as normal.
“I think the important thing to know is that within the country, at the six refineries and 47 storage facilities, there is plenty of fuel, there is no shortage of fuel within the country,” Mr Shapps said.
“The most important thing is actually that if people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won't have queues and you won't have shortages at the pump either.
Plans to offer 5,000 three-month visas for lorry drivers were “insufficient” to address supply issues in the lead up to Christmas, retail and haulage industry leaders said.
Other measures already announced include training up to 4,000 new HGV drivers, and increasing capacity at driving test centres.
The Road Haulage Association, the British Retail Consortium and the British Chamber of Commerce all criticised the scope of the visa measures. In turn, Mr Shapps accused the drivers of creating the problem.
Mr Shapps said: “I'm afraid there has been some pretty irresponsible briefing out by one of the road haulage associations, which has helped to spark a crisis, and that's very, very unhelpful, it's counterproductive”.
“I know that they're desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries.”
Andrew Opie, a director at the British Retail Consortium, said the limit of 5,000 HGV visas would do “little to alleviate the current shortfall” and called for visas to be extended to “all sectors of the retail industry".
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of lorry drivers, and there have been long-term issues in the UK with vacancy numbers, an ageing workforce, low wages and poor lorry stop conditions.