Fuel crisis 'to last weeks', but PM insists it is stabilising as the army gets ready

28 September 2021, 18:35 | Updated: 29 September 2021, 10:45

  • Fuel crisis ‘stabilising,’ PM insists
  • But Boris Johnson admits No10 is working on ‘getting through Christmas and beyond’
  • 300 army drivers and drivers’ mates on standby to help deliver fuel
  • Huge queues still seen at pumps and tempers flare with fights breaking out

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The fuel panic gripping Britain could take weeks to fix, industry figures have warned today - despite the Prime Minister urging the nation to buy petrol "in the normal way" and only fill up when needed.

Boris Johnson is being accused of failing to do enough to tackle the crisis, and he has dismissed calls for key workers to be prioritised at pumps.

He tried to calm the chaos by urging the public to only "fill up in the normal way when you really need it", but he warned that the Government is working on resolving wider supply chain issues and "getting through to Christmas and beyond".

Fuel industry figures also warned today that disruption could last weeks, even after panic buying subsides, due to the time it would take to restock petrol stations.

Troops are expected to begin training to help deliver petrol supplies and could be deployed within days. A decision to put 150 military drivers on standby has been formally approved, meaning they can begin training in case they are required.

A further 150 drivers' mates are also ready to help out as part of the military effort.

The government has confirmed 16% of all petrol stations are now fully supplied with fuel, compared to 10% at the weekend. Normally 40% of petrol stations are fully supplied

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) also said there were "early signs" the pressure was starting to ease at the pumps.

There were big queues outside petrol stations again on Tuesday, with violent scenes erupting on some forecourts.

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In his first public comments on the crisis yesterday, Mr Johnson stopped short of giving key workers priority access to fuel supplies despite direct calls from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for him to do so.

The PM said: "I know how frustrating, infuriating it must have been to worry about shortage of petrol or fuel.

"We now are starting to see the situation improve; we're hearing from (the) industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourt in the normal way.

"I would just stress that on the forecourts the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go back to their business in the normal way."

He added: "I would really urge everybody to go about their business in the normal way and fill up (at petrol stations) in the normal way when you really need it.

"What we want to do is to make sure we have all the preparations needed to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in supply for petrol stations but all parts of the supply chain."

Mr Johnson said panic buying of petrol followed a "slightly misleading" account of the shortages of lorry drivers which caused an "understandable surge in public demand".

He said: "The actual number of lorry drivers that we're short in that particular sector isn't very big. But generally there is a shortage in that profession around the world.

"And what we want to see is an emphasis on high wage, a high-skill, a high-productivity approach to our economy.

"What I don't think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration. Again, we tried that for a long time - 20 years or so, perhaps longer.

"And in the end, people could see that it was leading to a low-wage, low-skill approach without enough investment in people or in equipment, in capital. And that's not the way we want the UK to develop and grow." 

Earlier the PRA said there are "early signs" the fuel crisis is ending.

Executive director Gordon Balmer said: "There are early signs that the crisis at pumps is ending, with more of our members reporting that they are now taking further deliveries of fuel.

"Fuel stocks remain normal at refineries and terminals, although deliveries have been reduced due to the shortage of HGV drivers.

"We have conducted a survey of our members this morning and only 37% of forecourts have reported being out of fuel today. With regular restocks taking place, this percentage is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours."

Sir Keir accused the Government of reducing the country to "chaos" through its failure to deal with the crisis.

"The Prime Minister should take that action today, prioritise key workers and start issuing enough visas and for long enough," he told the BBC.

He added: "This problem was predictable and predicted and the Government has absolutely failed to plan."