UK military on standby as fuel and truck driver crisis deepens
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson put British army troops "on standby" to work as truck drivers to haul fuel to gas stations where supplies have been emptied by panic buying and labor shortage, worsened by Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
Supply chain disruptions and attendant shortages of goods are hitting countries around the globe, including the United States.
But Britain appears on the forefront of the chaos — where recovery from the pandemic is colliding with steep labor shortages, driven by the end of free movement of workers from Eastern Europe who were handling the low-wage jobs Britons take a pass on — in nursing homes, slaughter houses and on the highways.
The fuel shortage in Britain is the latest and most obvious sign the supply chain is seriously out of whack, analysts and business owners say.
As images of a man threatening another driver with a knife at a gas station line went viral Tuesday, British Transport Minister Grant Shapps pleaded with drivers to stop using old plastic water bottles to add a few more gallons to their purchase.
“As soon as a tanker arrives at a filling station, people on social media are advising that a tanker has arrived and then it is like bees to a honey pot. Everyone flocks there and within a few hours it is out again,” Brian Madderson, chair of the Petrol Retailers Association, told BBC Radio.
British officials say there is plenty of fuel at the ports and refineries — just not at the pump.
Last week the government urged consumers not to all head to stations to top up their tanks — the warning may have done just the opposite by alerting drivers to likely shortages.
The panic buying has created a rush on gas stations, which are running dry with long lines of frustrated consumers. London drivers are traveling far outside of the city to fill their tanks.
Previously in Britain, the army has been called out to help save lives and villages from extreme flooding. Troops were also deployed to assist in the delivery of vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic.
The possibility that British soldiers will need to drive tanker trucks to service stations would mark a brand new mission and milestone in the country’s building supply crisis.
Britain faces a shortfall of more than 100,000 truck drivers. Many British-born drivers have left the profession, complaining of low wages and harsh conditions.
In recent decades, the shortage has been made up by hiring drivers from the European Union. The pandemic, Brexit and new immigration laws forced many of those drivers to return to their home countries or to work for Europe-based haulers.
To remedy the shortfall, the British government announced on Saturday that it would issue 5,000 temporary, three-month work visas for foreign drivers. Those visas would end on Christmas Eve.