A small number of BP and Esso-owned Tesco gas stations in the U.K. were shut on Thursday due to a lack of truck drivers to deliver fuel, prompting fears of shortages and panic-buying.
At least 50 BP stations were short of at least one type of fuel, mostly in London and the southeast of England, the Times reported on Thursday, though Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News on Friday that only a handful of stations had closed entirely.
“Out of BP 1,200 or 1,300 forecourts yesterday, they told me that five had to be closed throughout the country,” Shapps said. “My advice would be carry on as normal.”
There is no oil supply crisis in the U.K., but a shortage of truck drivers to deliver fuel to some stations, with retailers bracing for mounting problems. “We are expecting the next few weeks to be really, really difficult,” BP’s head of U.K. retail Hanna Hofer told the government during a briefing last week, the Daily Mail reported.
The driver shortage has also been affecting other retail industries in Britain. Grocery chain Tesco warned the government that empty shelves at Christmas could lead to a vicious cycle of panic-buying. According to the Guardian, the company told a Cabinet office meeting it was short 800 drivers.
Tesco and other businesses have been asking the government for several months to make it easier to recruit workers from abroad. Many foreign drivers left the U.K. both because of the COVID-19 pandemic and due to post-Brexit uncertainty, according to industry representatives.
Shapps said on Friday that he’d “move heaven and earth” to resolve the driver shortage crisis, and that he was “absolutely not ruling anything out at all,” including opening a short-term skilled worker visa scheme. But he also insisted Brexit wasn’t causing the shortages.
“I’ve seen people point at Brexit as if it’s the culprit here. In fact they’re wrong. Not only are there very large and even larger shortages in other EU countries, like Poland and Germany, but actually because of Brexit, I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way that our driving tests operates,” he said.
He told Sky News that a shortage of driving tests was more to blame. Earlier this month, the U.K. announced new measures to ramp up the number of tests.
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