Gas stations in parts of Britain are running out of fuel as drivers line up to fill their tanks in what the government and gas companies call an artificial run on gasoline. It is "panic buying, pure and simple," Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told the BBC. Several oil companies said in a joint statement that the pressure on supply was due to "temporary spikes in customer demand — not a national shortage of fuel."
Regardless, the PRA says two-thirds of its nearly 5,500 independent gas stations are out of fuel, and the others are "partly dry and running out soon." The British government responded Sunday night by temporarily exempting the oil industry from the Competition Act 1998, allowing gas suppliers to send fuel where it is needed most. On Saturday night, Britain announced that it will authorize 5,000 work visas for foreign drivers of heavy goods vehicles (HGV), or trucks. The visas will become available in October and be valid only until Dec. 24.
The government has also sent letters to nearly a million licensed HGV drivers who are no longer in the trucking industry, urging them to return to work, and ministers are weighing whether to deploy the armed forces to deliver fuel to gas stations. Britain lost 72,000 truckers and about 128,000 other European Union citizens when it closed its borders due to its exit from the EU, or Brexit.
The trucker shortage got especially acute after Britain completed its EU withdrawal in January, while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed training of new truck drivers. And it isn't just gas stations affected. "Countless industries in Britain have complained recently about lagging deliveries, with shortages of McDonald's milkshakes and roasted chicken at Nando's restaurants generating headlines," The New York Times reports. Critics said these problems were clearly foreseeable.
"We knew in particular that when we exited the EU, there would be a need for a backup plan to deal with the situation," said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party. Trucking companies also face pressure to increase wages and living conditions to address the labor crunch.