Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to take “emergency” action to address the shortage of lorry drivers which, he said, was threatening to ruin Christmas.
The Labour leader said the prime minister should if necessary recall Parliament to rush through legislation to ensure the shelves remain stocked in the run up to the festive season.
His call on the eve of the Tory Party conference in Manchester came after a government minister said it could take another “week or so” to resolve the fuel crisis, with long queues at continuing in some parts of the country.
This followed warnings of shortages across the economy, from retailers to meat producers, unless immigration rules were relaxed to admit seasonal workers from abroad.
Boris Johnson’s ‘lack of planning’
In a statement, Starmer said that a scheme to issue 5,000 temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers would not be up and running “for weeks”.
He said the government needed to take swift action if it was to prevent the problems hitting the fuel industry spreading to other sectors.
“I don’t want people in this country to have another Christmas ruined by this prime minister’s lack of planning,” he said.
“Every day wasted is prolonging this crisis. The government has been talking about issuing visas but still hasn’t done anything.
“The prime minister should be taking emergency action today but yet again he’s failed to grasp the seriousness of the crisis.
“If it needs legislation, then let’s recall Parliament to get these emergency measures through urgently. The prime minister needs to get a grip.”
Parliament is suspended for party conference season and the call by Starmer for a recall just as the Conservatives are holding their annual gathering is likely to be dismissed by ministers as a political manoeuvre.
Earlier policing minister Kit Malthouse warned that it could be a “week or so” before the situation at the petrol pumps returned to normal.
Long queues not convincing minister to relax immigration rules
With long queues continuing in some parts of the country – particularly London and the South East – he said they needed to see some improvement over the coming days.
“I think if things started to deteriorate further, obviously the prime minister and the Secretary of State for Energy (Kwasi Kwarteng), whose responsibility this is, will have to review the situation,” he told the BBC.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) – representing independent filling stations – warned the queues were set to continue unless supplies increased.
Executive director Gordon Balmer said the independents had been particularly hard hit, with one in four reporting they had run dry.
“Whilst the situation is similar to recent days, there are signs that it is improving, but far too slowly,” he said.
“Until independents start getting frequent supplies, we will continue to see long queues at forecourts.”
Meanwhile Kwarteng has again dismissed appeals from businesses for the immigration rules to be eased.
The meat industry became the latest sector to press for a relaxation of the regulations to address an estimated shortfall of 10,000 trained butchers.