Long petrol queues continue as more foreign HGV drivers expected to be allowed to work in UK

Long queues of motorists waiting to fill up their tanks are continuing for a second day – as the government is expected to clear the way for a visa change allowing thousands of foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK.

The temporary measures would be aimed at HGV truckers from abroad plugging the gaps that have been blamed for causing the queues at petrol pumps and shortages in some food items.

Number 10 has insisted any move would be “very strictly time-limited” and Sky News understands that Boris Johnson has allowed ministers to relax immigration rules that could allow up to 5,000 foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the country had “ample fuel stocks…and there are no shortages”.

Long lines of cars at petrol stations started forming on Friday and continued for a second day, as concerns over supplies spread.

Ministers met yesterday for urgent talks on how to address what has been estimated as a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers.

Sky's deputy political editor Sam Coates reported that the prime minister has cleared the way for the visa change in the hope that it could prevent a crisis.

The details are expected to be revealed on Sunday in a bid to overshadow the start of Labour's party conference.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner criticised the government for the “crisis now on our forecourts”.

She told Sky News: “People have started to panic buy fuel and I would urge people not to do that because that will only make the situation worse.

“But this is of the government's own doing and their failures.”

She added: “It's a theme that we have with this government – they constantly do things at the last minute, at the last possible point, and create the crisis in the first place.

“Once again Boris Johnson and his government have basically decided to have a laissez-faire attitude and hope that things will just fix themselves.

“Well, they haven't fixed themselves and their policies have come home to roost for the British public.”

Retailers have warned the government has just 10 days to save Christmas from “significant disruption” due to the shortage.

The British Retail Consortium said disruption to festive preparations will be “inevitable” if progress is not made.

Sky News understands that government departments are being asked to come up with emergency contingency plans.

Suggestions include using military driving examiners so people could qualify as HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers more quickly.

Troops with HGV qualifications have the capability to test would-be civilian drivers to enable them to gain the right qualifications to drive HGV lorries, a defence source told Sky News.

But the source added that there has not been any request for the military to provide fuel lorry drivers themselves.

“No one has asked us to provide drivers. No one is currently asking us. I don't expect anyone to ask us to provide drivers,” they said.

BP said on Friday that between 50 and 100 stations have been affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel, with around 20 of its 1,200 sites currently closed through loss of delivery supply.

EG Group, which has 341 petrol stations across the UK, imposed a £30 spending limit on customers “due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel”.

Shell reported an “increased demand” at stations, with many drivers experiencing longer queues than normal.

Tesco said two of its 500 petrol stations were affected – describing the impact as minimal.

Sainsbury's, Asda, and Morrisons said they were not affected.

The AA said that most of the UK's forecourts are working as they should, with president Edmund King saying: “There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages.

“But like countries around the world, we are suffering from a temporary COVID-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country.

“We're looking at temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems, but any measures we introduce will be very strictly time limited.

“We are moving to a high wage, high skilled economy and businesses will need to adapt with more investment in recruitment and training to provide long-term resilience.”

Speaking to Kay Burley, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the shortage of drivers should “smooth out fairly quickly” as more HGV driving tests have been made available.

“The problem is not new,” he insisted, adding: “There has been a lack of drivers for many months through this pandemic because during the lockdown drivers couldn't be passed through their lorry HGV tests, and that is what has led to this problem.”

The latest ONS Labour Force Survey found that 14,000 EU lorry drivers left the UK in the year to June 2020.

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