‘No plans’ for the army to be brought in to fix fuel crisis, minister says

27 September 2021, 06:32 | Updated: 27 September 2021, 13:15

By Emma Soteriou

There are "no plans at the moment" for the army to be drafted in to drive petrol tankers as panic buying continues, Environment Secretary George Eustice has said.

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Mr Eustice called on motorists to return to their normal pattern of purchasing fuel, blaming the shortage on those filling up when they did not need to.

He went on to say: "We are bringing Ministry of Defence trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there's definitely a role there for the MOD.

"In terms of other things we've no plans at the moment to bring in the army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the army on standby - but we're not jumping to that necessarily at the moment."

Emergency measures were triggered on Sunday evening when Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng chose to suspend competition laws for the fuel industry, allowing suppliers to target filling stations running low.

Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association, told LBC some petrol brands are seeing as many as 90 per cent of their sites running dry.

He said: "We did a straw poll yesterday morning of a number of our members who have around 200 sites between them.

"Fifty per cent of those we spoke to said their sites were dry and some actually said 90 per cent of their sites were dry, so it is on a company-by-company basis and almost on a brand-by-brand basis because some oil companies are still relatively okay in terms of deliveries."

Read more: Petrol station chaos: Govt suspends rules for oil firms in bid to ease shortages

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was said to be considering bringing in the army to drive fuel tankers as "frenzied buying" continues at petrol pumps.

Mr Johnson was expected to decide whether to take the drastic step of drafting in the army on Monday, according to multiple reports.

The demand for fuel shot up by 500 per cent over the weekend, as concern grew over the shortage of drivers and motorists flocked to pumps, panic buying fuel and filling up jerry cans as well as their cars.

Fights broke out at petrol stations and there have been widespread queues and scenes of chaos at forecourts across the country.

Read more: Ambulance crashes into car trying to get past long fuel queue

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps previously refused to rule out military assistance when quizzed on the issue by LBC’s Nick Ferrari.

The minister stumbled when he was asked about Operation Escalin, which would see lorry drivers replaced by the military.

He later went on to say: "Well, I'll look at all of these things and military… it could be a wide range of different things from of course helping to test, to helping to drive."

"There's plenty of fuel in the refineries, there's no shortage of fuel, it is only the question of the delivery and it's not the situation as we've seen in the country before, where the distribution network's on strike or blockaded or anything like that," he added.

Read more: Army of 10,000 foreign workers asked to save Christmas from shortages crisis

Worry over depleted stocks led Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to act following a meeting with oil companies on Sunday.

He opted to temporarily exempt the industry from the Competition Act, allowing them to share information so they could target areas where fuel supply was running particularly low.

Invoking what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol, Mr Kwarteng said: "While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

"This is why we will enact the protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised."

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Panic buying at petrol stations has seen queues of motorists blocking roads up and down the country.

Despite pleas from the Government to stop, with them stressing there is no shortage of fuel, many forecourts have been forced to close due to panic buying causing fuel to run out as well as fights breaking out.

In Bromley Hill, an ambulance travelling to a patient collided with a car after getting caught up in the chaos.

The London Ambulance Service said it was out of action for a short time after but another crew attended to the patient.