Military drivers will be deployed to deliver fuel to forecourts from Monday as the crisis at the pumps continues.
Almost 200 military personnel – including 100 drivers – have been undertaking training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation at petrol stations, which ministers insist is stabilising.
The government also announced that a temporary visa scheme for nearly 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers that was due to expire on December 24 will now be extended to the end of February, following criticism of its attractiveness to drivers.
Keir Starmer and the SNP
It comes as opposition parties raised the prospect of a parliamentary recall to address the wider situation of labour shortages and supply chain disruption.
Keir Starmer said the temporary visa scheme would not be up and running “for weeks”, and said the prime minister should if necessary recall Parliament to rush through legislation to ensure the shelves remain stocked in the run up to Christmas.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Boris Johnson “must immediately recall Parliament and convene cross-party talks to set out steps to effectively tackle the Brexit crisis”.
He added: “The severe labour shortages, soaring costs, empty supermarket shelves, ongoing fuel crisis, and trading barriers are all inflicting serious and lasting harm.”
Visas for workers from abroad
In an announcement on Friday evening, the government said 300 fuel drivers would be able to come to the UK from overseas “immediately” under a bespoke temporary visa which will last until March.
Some 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initially announced three months and will last from late October to the end of February.
A total of 5,500 poultry workers will also be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.
The government has said these workers, who can arrive from late October, will now be able to stay up to December 31 under the temporary visa scheme.
But the government added that the visas will not be a long-term solution and it wants to see employers make investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour.
It said it is also working with the industry to find long-term solutions to the shortage of HGV drivers and to encourage more people to enter the logistics sector by improving pay and conditions.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay said: “The government has taken decisive action to tackle the short-term disruption to our supply chains, and in particular the flow of fuel to forecourts.
“We are now seeing the impact of these interventions with more fuel being delivered to forecourts than sold and, if people continue to revert to their normal buying patterns, we will see smaller queues and prevent petrol stations closing.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng added: “UK forecourt stock levels are trending up, deliveries of fuel to forecourts are above normal levels, and fuel demand is stabilising.
“It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal.”
‘These shortages are very real’
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) – representing independent filling stations – warned queues at forecourts were set to continue unless fuel supplies increased, and said the independents had been particularly hard hit.
The government has said there is no national fuel shortage, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Daily Mail that there is global disruption to supply chains in other industries.
He told the paper: “These shortages are very real”, adding: “We’re seeing real disruptions in supply chains in different sectors, not just here but around the world.
“We are determined to do what we can to try to mitigate as much of this as we can.”
He told the paper: “As you can imagine there’s an enormous amount of focus on this from the government because we know how important this is. My kids will be very upset with me if there isn’t a proper Christmas.”
Meanwhile, The Financial Times reported that millions of British Christmas dinners will be saved by turkeys being imported, after the chief executive of the British Poultry Council, Richard Griffiths, told the paper that the country’s big producers had reduced consumption by about a fifth this year because Brexit had cut off their supply of cheap labour.
A turkey farmer told the paper imported turkeys are likely to come from France and Poland.