UK demand for petrol should ease in ‘coming days’

Pressure on filling stations should decrease with cars carrying more fuel than usual, industry says

Demand for petrol in the UK should return to normal levels in “the coming days”, the fuel industry said, as ministers again appealed to motorists to stop “panic buying”.

Leading suppliers, including BP, Esso and Shell, said that with many cars now carrying more petrol than usual, pressure on filling stations should start to ease.

Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson withdrew from plans to send in troops to deliver fuel to petrol stations as Downing Street said there were “ample” supplies.

The petrol companies issued a statement released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, urging drivers to return to normal buying patterns.

“There is plenty of fuel at UK refineries and terminals, and as an industry we are working closely with the government to help ensure fuel is available to be delivered to stations across the country,” they said.

“We would encourage everyone to buy fuel as they usually would.”

The appeal came after many filling stations ran dry as drivers made a dash for the pumps amid fears that a shortage of tanker drivers would hit supplies.

Mr Johnson was reported to be considering activating Operation Escalin, originally drawn up to deal with Brexit, in which troops would drive tankers.

But his official spokesman said there were no plans to use the military, beyond assisting with the drive to reduce the backlog of tests for lorry drivers.

“Obviously we will continue to look at all options and make sure preparatory steps are taken across government should further measures be needed,” the spokesman said.

“We are not currently bringing in the military to drive tankers.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice, meanwhile, blamed motorists for the long queues at petrol stations, not a shortage of fuel.

“There isn’t a shortage," Mr Eustice said. "The cause of these current problems is that panic-buying episode and the most important thing is for people to start buying petrol as they normally would.

“There does come a point, as we saw during a previous episode of panic buying during the pandemic on food, where things settle down and people get used to it and return to life as normal again.

“The sooner people do that the better. The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol when they don’t need to.”

Despite the reassurances, doctors urged ministers to give healthcare staff priority access to fuel.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, said essential services could be affected if staff could not get to work because they were unable to fill up.

“Everyone will have their own reasons for needing to fill up, but as pumps run dry there is a real risk that NHS staff won’t be able to do their jobs and provide vital services and care to people who urgently need it,” Dr Nagpaul said.

“Healthcare and essential workers must therefore be given priority access to fuel so they can continue their crucial work and guarantee care to patients.”

Surrey County Council’s Conservative leader Tim Oliver told PA that the local resilience forum, which includes the National Health Service and police, would consider on Monday evening whether to declare a major incident.

“We have been experiencing the same problems as everyone else so we are deciding whether or not to declare a major incident, which would give the forum powers to prioritise key workers,” Mr Oliver said.

Labour Party shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the problems in the haulage industry had been building for months but ministers simply ignored the warnings.

“Since last year I have been meeting and talking with the Road Haulage Association and hauliers about some of the problems coming down the line," Ms Reeves told ITV .

“The government ignored those problems, which is why we are now facing the situation where people go to the supermarkets and see shortages of goods on the shelves, and why they are queuing up at petrol stations and not being able to fill up their tank.

“That is not acceptable. This is an out-of-touch and complacent government.”

To try to ease the crisis, Mr Johnson announced at the weekend plans to issue 5,000 temporary, three-month visas to foreign tanker drivers.

But Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents hauliers across the EU, criticised the idea that it would tempt enough drivers back to the UK after Brexit.

“On the short-term I think that will be a dead end,” Mr Atema told the BBC Radio 4.

Updated: September 27th 2021, 10:11 PM