Boris Johnson has demanded a quick fix to the UK’s critical shortage of lorry drivers, which has sparked a string of supply chain problems and left petrol stations with long queues on Friday.
Ministers and officials are expected to meet to examine a number of measures to deal with the crisis – including the option of issuing temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers, the Financial Times reported.
One option includes an expansion to the season agricultural workers scheme – which would enable “a few thousand HGV drivers and a few thousand food processing workers” to enter the country, an official said.
“Boris wants this solved,” one person told the newspaper. An ally of the prime minister added: “Boris is completely fed up with bad headlines on this and wants it sorted and doesn’t care about visa limits any more.”
Priti Patel, the home secretary, had been the strongest opponent of giving out temporary visas to foreign HGV drivers, arguing it would lead to other industries demanding preferential treatment.
But amid scenes of panic buying at petrol stations across the country on Friday, she has reportedly dropped her opposition.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has tried to dissuade drivers from panic buying petrol, after BP was forced to close down a handful of its forecourts.
Shapps said on Friday that motorists should “carry on as normal”.
“The advice would be to carry on as normal, and that is what BP is saying as well,” he told Sky News.
On Friday morning queues started to form outside some filling stations in the UK. Photos from Maidenhead and Leeds showed cars trying to reach the pumps.
On Friday, BP said that around 20 of its 1,200 petrol forecourts were closed due to a lack of available fuel, with between 50 and 100 sites affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel.
A “small number” of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted, said Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the sites.
‘Heaven and Earth’
Shapps said: “As of last night, five petrol stations on the BP network out of 12 or 13 hundred were affected.
“I’m meeting this morning with Tesco and I’m sure they’ll give me the update for themselves. None of the other retailers said they had any closures.”
He added: “The others, Asda, Morrisons and other supermarkets, are saying they have no problems, as have other petrol companies.”
To the BBC’s Today programme Shapps promised he would do what is needed to ensure that petrol gets to drivers.
“I’ll move heaven and Earth to do anything that’s required to make sure that lorries carry on moving our goods and services and petrol around the country,” he said.
He denied that Brexit was the culprit in the UK’s recent shortage of lorry drivers, arguing that the split from the European Union has helped the Government react.
“Not only are there very large and even larger shortages in other EU countries like Poland and Germany, which clearly can’t be to do with Brexit, but actually because of Brexit I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way our driving tests operate in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU,” he said.
“So, Brexit actually has provided part of the solution of giving more slots available for HGV (heavy goods vehicle) tests and there are a lot more, twice as many, tests available now than before the pandemic, a large proportion of those we’ve only been able to do because we are no longer in the EU.”