UK fuel crisis is 'direct consequence' of Brexit, Michel Barnier says

28 September 2021, 15:09

Michel Barnier has spoken out about the UK fuel crisis
Michel Barnier has spoken out about the UK fuel crisis. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The UK fuel crisis which has sparked days of long queues and pump closures is a "direct consequence" of Brexit, former EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said.

Mr Barnier insisted there was a clear link between the UK's decision to end freedom of movement and the severe shortage of HGV drivers.

He said: "Part of the answer is linked, effectively, to the consequences of the Brexit because the UK chose to end the freedom of movement.

"And it's clearly linked to the truck drivers."

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He added: "In addition to the freedom of movement, the UK has chosen to leave the single market... the UK decided to rebuild, for the very first time, non-tariff barriers between the EU and the UK. It is a direct and mechanical consequence of Brexit."

Mr Barner, who is running for president of France, was speaking at virtual event hosted at the London School of Economics.

He was promoting his new book My Secret Brexit Diary, a memoir about his time negotiating a deal on behalf of the EU.

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The fuel crisis, which has entered its fifth day, has been blamed on a lack HGV drivers, with supply issues exacerbated by panic buying.

The HGV driver issue is global but the UK has felt the pain more acutely because thousands of drivers from the EU left the country during the pandemic and did not return.

Brexit rules prevented them from taking up vacant positions. 

The Road Haulage Association estimated last month that 14,000 EU drivers left during the pandemic, with only around 500 of these returning.

Alongside this, the Government was telling companies they should be training up British drivers, rather than relying on EU ones as they had done before. 

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But training takes several months and the DVLA had a huge backlog of people wanting to take a test.

Other factors have also been linked to the issue.

Covid-19 resulted in the closure of HGV testing sites, causing a backlog in those looking to take the test.

An ageing workforce and the long hours with low pay - compared with rates elsewhere in Europe - have also contributed.

It comes after the Government confirmed last night that the military is being put on standby to be drafted in to help tackle the crisis.

It showed no sign of letting up this morning, with violent clashes breaking out at forecourts across the country. In once case a driver pulled a knife on a motorist in a furious clash at a petrol pump.