Fuel shortage: British army stands ready

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The UK government could ask military tanker drivers to help deliver the fuel.

The UK on Monday called on its military to be ready to come to the aid of the country in the ongoing fuel crisis, after a weekend of worried Britons rushing to gas stations, leaving much to dry. “A limited number of military tanker drivers must be ready to respond and deployed if necessary to stabilize the fuel supply,” the energy ministry said in a statement the evening.

At a gas station in east London, a line of 50 cars stretched out as early as 6.30am Monday morning, with customers having spent part of the night waiting. Across the country, “no more gas” or “out of service” signs are popping up near gas pumps, with around 30% of the giant BP’s stations affected by fuel shortages. Some British media have published videos of edgy drivers clashing near pumps for fear of breaking down or not being able to go to work. While medical organizations are sounding the alarm bells about caregivers having difficulty traveling to see their patients, some schools are considering switching back to distance education if the problem persists.

According to the PRA, one of the associations of fuel distributors, up to two-thirds of its members (5,500 independent sites out of a total of 8,000 stations in the country), were out of fuel on Sunday, “the others almost dried up “. But the association says it expects “a possible easing of demand and a normalization of stocks in the days to come”. On Monday, representatives of the sector again wanted to reassure by saying that there is “full of fuel in the British refineries”. The situation is reminiscent of gasoline rationing during the energy crisis of the 1970s, or a blockage of refineries that paralyzed the country‚Äôs activity for weeks in the early 2000s.

The crisis began in the middle of last week after a confidential report from BP to the government leaked, describing a few dozen gas stations closing for lack of fuel, as a PRA official lamented. Panic buying immediately took off across the country and a majority of gas stations are now affected. Shortages of gasoline or diesel are initially due to the lack of truck drivers to transport it from the storage terminals to the pumps. The problem also affects the shelves of supermarkets, fast food restaurants, pubs, bicycle vendors, among others, which deplore delays in deliveries and exhausted stocks on certain products.

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The shortage of truck drivers has been going on for several months because of the combined pandemic and Brexit, with Labor accusing Boris Johnson’s Tory government of ‘falling asleep at the wheel’ and not intervening before. The lockdowns have prompted some European drivers to return home, and tens of thousands of others have been unable to pass their HGV licenses because examination centers have been closed for months. Brexit also complicates migration procedures where European workers previously circulated freely. The government, however, denies the impact of Brexit in the current crisis, saying European countries too are facing driver shortages, but the UK’s road transport federation makes it one of the main causes of the problem, according to a report published last month.

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