People in high visibility clothing stand by a tanker at the Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead

Britain sends in military to solve fuel crisis as driver shortage persists

Image credit: Andrew Boyers | Reuters

British military personnel in combat fatigues arrived at a BP storage depot today after the government ordered the army to help deliver fuel to tackle an acute shortage of truckers, Reuters has reported.

Members of the armed forces arrived at the Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead as the military was drafted in to deliver fuel to petrol stations. Soldiers in uniform and wearing face masks were spotted walking near the gates to the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal.

Britain's supply chains for everything from pork, petrol and poultry to medicines and milk have been strained to breaking point by shortages of labour in the wake of a double-whammy of Brexit and Covid-19 crises.

Panic buying of fuel amid the shortage of truckers triggered chaotic scenes across the UK last week, with long queues of drivers flooding areas around petrol stations. Some customers resorted to fist fights over the pumps and threatening queue jumpers with knives, while others hoarded as much fuel as they could carry in old water bottles.

Reuters reporters wrote of seeing at least two dozen petrol stations still closed due to having no fuel available across London and southern England. Drivers were still forming long queues outside stations that were lucky enough to be able to remain open.

The Petrol Retailers Association said about 22 per cent of fuel stations in London and the southeast were still without fuel. Gordon Balmer, the association's executive director, said it might take another week to 10 days to get stocks back up to normal, with London and the South East the worst affected by the fuel crisis because of their denser populations.

Speaking on Sky News, Balmer said: “We have a straw poll each day of our members and yesterday about 11,000 sites responded. One of the situations seems to be worse with BP, but we know that they are rectifying that. Some of our members are saying that they have been without fuel for a number of days – some over a week now.”

Government ministers have repeatedly denied that the fuel crisis has anything to do with Brexit and have cast the trucker shortage as a global problem, although the UK's European neighbours have not experienced queues at gas stations.

Members of the military look on at Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead - inline

Image credit: Andrew Boyers | Reuters

"The HGV drivers is not a UK issue, it's a Europe-wide issue and beyond," finance minister Rishi Sunak said, speaking to LBC radio. "I want people to know that we are doing everything we can to mitigate some of those challenges, where we can make a difference.

“We know there’s enough petrol at our refineries and our terminals and the issue is we’ve had a very steep demand spike, but the good news is it is getting better, so I think every single day since about last Tuesday we’ve delivered more petrol to forecourts than has been taken out, the number of people getting deliveries has increased, the volume of fuel getting delivered has increased.

"As an extra precaution, we've put the extra drivers on. The situation has been improving now for I think over a week every day... it is getting better and as demand settles back to more normal levels, the strong expectation is things will resolve themselves."

Amid the fuel station crisis, farmers have repeatedly warned that a shortage of butchers and abattoir workers could force a cull of more than 100,000 pigs backed up on farms.

Asked about the fuel and haulier shortages by Times Radio, Sunak responded: “I don’t think anyone plans to have supply chain challenges the likes of which we’re seeing, I think no-one wants to see that, I don’t think that would be fair, but more broadly do all of us want to see a higher-skill, higher-wage economy? Of course we do, that’s a good thing for the UK and, as the Prime Minister has said, in the long run that’s exactly the type of economy we’re trying to build.

“We don’t want to just default, knee jerk, pull the immigration lever, but, that said, we want to be pragmatic, so in the short-term we know that there are some challenges.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson has previously said that he will not return to "uncontrolled immigration" to solve fuel, gas and Christmas food crises, suggesting such strains were part of a period of post-Brexit adjustment.

Adding to the sense of chaos on Monday, London was brought to a standstill by climate change activists who blocked major routes into the city.

Around 50 campaigners from Insulate Britain - which wants the government to commit to providing insulation for 29 million homes - blocked busy routes into the capital, including the Blackwall Tunnel in east London and a bridge over the River Thames in the southwest of the capital. Police have reportedly made around 38 arrests so far.

Meanwhile, Johnson told reporters in Manchester - where the Conservative Party is holding its annual conference - that a shift to renewable energy sources by 2035 would protect consumers from fluctuating import prices: “The advantage of that is that it will mean that, for the first time, the UK is not dependent on hydrocarbons coming from overseas with all the vagaries in hydrocarbon prices and the risk that poses for people’s pockets and for the consumer. We will be reliant on our own clean power generation which will help us also to keep costs down.”

Pressing the point, Johnson confirmed that he wants all UK electricity to come from renewable sources by 2035. Speaking to broadcasters at a Network Rail site in Manchester, he said: “We can do for our entire energy production by 2035 what we’re doing with internal combustion engines in vehicles by 2030.

“By 2030, you won’t be able to buy a new hydrocarbon-fuelled internal combustion engine car and we’re going to move to clean power of one kind or another. And that will make a huge difference to our CO2 output, to controlling climate change, to our planet, but it will also put the UK at the forefront of this amazing new industry of clean vehicles.

“What we’re also saying is that by 2035, looking at the progress we’re making in wind power, where we lead the world now in offshore wind, looking at what we can do with other renewable sources, carbon capture and storage with hydrogen potentially, we think that we can get to complete clean energy production by 2035.”

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