Govt looking at temporary visas for lorry drivers as panic-buyers gridlock petrol stations

25 September 2021, 07:18 | Updated: 25 September 2021, 10:20

  • Boris Johnson set for U-turn on visas for foreign lorry drivers to tackle crisis
  • Long queues start at petrol pumps as drivers fear shortages
  • But AA and No10 says "we have ample stocks" of fuel and drivers should "buy as normal"
  • BP says up to 100 petrol forecourts in its 1,200-strong network are experiencing shortages, with around 20 closed completely

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson is expected to make a U-turn on temporary visas to allow thousands of foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK after panic-buyers scrambled to petrol stations.

Furious motorists vented their anger on Friday as they faced huge queues at pumps despite No10 telling them "we have ample stocks" and to "keep buying fuel as normal" instead of panic buying.

The Government is now considering introducing temporary measures to deal with the ongoing HGV driver crisis.

The Prime Minister is said to have given ministers the go-ahead to temporarily lift visa restrictions for foreign drivers in order to deal with the issue, according to reports.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages.

"But like countries around the world we are suffering from a temporary covid related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country.

"We’re looking at temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems, but any measures we introduce will be very strictly time limited.

"We are moving to a high wage, high skilled economy and businesses will need to adapt with more investment in recruitment and training to provide long-term resilience."

Long queues formed at the Esso garage in Brixton on Saturday morning, as panic-buyers headed out in fear of a possible fuel shortage.

One man told LBC he had been driving around since midnight trying to find a petrol station that was open as he is taking his daughter to university.

Meanwhile, a taxi driver said he is "furious" there are so many people filling up when they "probably get the train to work".

AA president Edmund King attempted to reassure customers, saying: "There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems."

Meanwhile, minister James Cleverly posted a desperate tweet on Friday afternoon, saying: "There is no fuel shortage!!!"

On LBC on Friday morning Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was asked whether the military could be drafted in to drive HGVs. He replied: "I certainly won't rule anything out at all, we will look at all the various contingency measures."

But there were scenes of long queues emerging with customers reported closed pump and queues of up to 45 minutes to fill up their cars as thousands of worried customers decided to fill up.

One woman shared pictures of drivers filling up jerry cans of petrol.

One customer waiting for fuel posted online: "Filling up their Mercs and shiny 4x4s that only leave their driveways on Sundays. One even filling up their cans for the lawnmower!! 'We're all in this together?!' Nope 'Every man for himself!!"

This motorist said it seemed like "every man for himself" at the pumps
This motorist said it seemed like "every man for himself" at the pumps. Picture: @MumsterTrish

Another person posted a picture of a huge queue of cars waiting for petrol at Sainsbury's at Castle Marina in Nottingham at 12.15 on Friday.

She posted: "Could barely get into the shop to peruse the empty shelves. This is a mere fraction of the queue for fuel. Ushers at car park entrance... Police presence... Madness."

Photos from Maidenhead and Leeds also showed cars waiting in long queues to reach the pumps.

Another person trying to fill up his motorbike on the A20 at Hothfield wrote: "Plan scuppered. You can't get petrol anywhere. Is the UK unique in empty shelves, labour shortages, queues for petrol, rocketing utility bills...."

Briony Allder wrote on twitter: "Only 5 mile range left so had to visit petrol station. It was rammed and the staff were talking about how they expect the pumps to run dry by lunch."

A large queue of cars at a garage in Hothfield in Kent
A large queue of cars at a garage in Hothfield in Kent. Picture: @EurostarGeorge

Varun Shivdasani posted: "Thanks for the 45 minute queues to get petrol... Thanks for the food shortages ..thanks for putting an end to free travel to the EU."

Ministers met on Friday afternoon for urgent talks on how to address the current shortage of lorry drivers and resolve the situation after a small number of petrol stations were forced to close.

Grant Shapps said on Friday that motorists should "carry on as normal".

BP said yesterday it had closed a "handful" of its petrol forecourts due to a lack of available fuel.

A "small number" of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted, said Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the sites.

On Thursday night, five petrol stations on the BP network out of as many as 1,200 were understood to be affected.

Grant Shapps said: "The others, Asda, Morrisons and other supermarkets, are saying they have no problems, as have other petrol companies."

At a meeting a week ago BP reportedly told the Government that the company was struggling to get fuel to its forecourts.

Its head of UK retail Hanna Hofer described the situation as "bad, very bad", according to a report by ITV News.

BP had "two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations", she said.

The AA has said that most of the UK's forecourts are working as they should amid worries over supply of petrol at some sites.

"There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems," said AA president Edmund King.

"Fridays and the weekend always tend to be busier on forecourts as drivers either combine filling up with shopping runs, prepare for weekend trips or refuel for the start of the new working week.

"Drivers should not fill up outside their normal routines because, even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.

"It is now clear that there have been occasional delays over recent weeks that have been managed with hardly anyone noticing. This was a manageable problem."