Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to do more to ease Britain’s supply chain crisis after pumps ran dry at some gas stations due to panic buying.
With a truck driver shortage increasing the possibility of further disruption of food and fuel deliveries in the coming weeks, the government took action late on Sunday to temporarily suspend competition rules and allow companies to coordinate the supply of fuel to the worst affected regions.
That came after Johnson announced measures including a U-turn to relax immigration rules for foreign truck drivers and poultry workers and called on Army examiners to help increase driving tests for heavy duty vehicles. The prime minister is considering plans to use soldiers to drive tanker trucks across the country, the Financial Times reported, citing unidentified officials.
“We have long-established contingency plans to work with the industry so that fuel supply can be maintained and deliveries can be made in the event of a serious disruption,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
Opposition politicians and businesses said the 5,000 new carrier visas through Christmas would just scratch the surface of a 100,000 deficit that has worsened since the UK left the European Union. Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, compared visas to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.”
While some countries in Europe are grappling with rising energy prices and pockets of labor shortages, the UK is facing a particularly grueling winter as it recovers from the pandemic. In recent weeks, hospitals have struggled with patient backlogs, empty supermarket shelves, and now lines at gas stations.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, blamed the Johnson government for failing to prepare for the fallout from Brexit. The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and its post-departure transition agreement ended earlier this year. “We have an absolute crisis in this country due to the lack of planning on the part of the government,” Starmer said.
BP Plc, the UK’s second-largest fuel retailer, said it had run out of major fuel grades at nearly a third of its stations. Outside the highway network, at least half of the gas stations had dried up by Sunday, the Financial Times reported, citing Brian Madderson, president of the Gasoline Retailers Association.
On Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tried to allay concerns, telling BBC television that “there is actually a lot of gasoline for everyone.” The driver shortage for the fueling industry amounted to “one, two, three hundred”. However, he left open the prospect of recruiting the army to supply service stations. “We will do whatever it takes.”
Until the weekend, the government had insisted that transport companies should train locals and pay them more. The changes to immigration rules, which also add 5,500 visas for poultry workers, last 12 weeks.
Johnson has spoken of Brexit as an opportunity to remake the British economy away from EU rules and its workforce. The argument is that foreign workers lowered domestic wages and discouraged recruitment and training. But companies argue that they need a longer period to stop depending on EU workers.
Food and fuel shortages add to a host of overwhelming challenges for Johnson as the British face a surge in electricity and gas prices just as some key measures supporting the pandemic are removed.
The flagship licensing program that saw the government pay the wages of more than 11 million jobs during the pandemic ends on September 30. The Labor Party released an analysis late Sunday that showed some 81,000 aviation workers are among those at risk of losing their jobs when the leave program closes.
On October 6, a weekly increase of 20 pounds ($ 27) in social security payments called Universal Credit comes to an end, a decision that has caused concern among conservative bases because of its effect on the poorest people.
Newspapers have started to refer to a “winter of discontent”, a politically charged phrase that evokes memories of 1978-79 when the UK economy fell to its knees from strikes and severe weather. Ultimately, he toppled the Labor government, giving way to the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher.
“We have a power shortage, we have a shortage in our supermarkets,” Labor’s Starmer said. “We have prices going up. We have to raise taxes on working families and the government takes a thousand pounds from those who need it most ”.
Assistant Principal Angela Rayner put it more bluntly, describing the Conservatives as “scum” at an event at Labor’s annual conference. That sparked a new dispute within the party just as he tried to show the electorate that he was united and ready to govern.
On Sunday, he declined to apologize for using the word, saying it was the “street language” of the northern English working class and only referred to members of the cabinet. “I was talking to a group of activists to tell them they have to have that fire in their stomach,” he said.
© 2021 Bloomberg