No plans to use Army to drive oil tankers amid fuel shortages, Eustice says

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Watch: 'No plans to bring in army to do driving' as minister urges people to stop 'panic buying'

The Government has “no plans at the moment” to use the Army to drive petrol tankers amid continuing shortages at filling stations, the Environment Secretary has said.

George Eustice said there was not a shortage of fuel and called on motorists to stop “panic buying” petrol and return to their normal pattern of purchasing.

His comments came amid reports Boris Johnson was considering sending in troops to deliver fuel to petrol stations following days of long queues at the pumps.

In a pooled clip for broadcasters, Mr Eustice said: “We are bringing Ministry of Defence (MoD) trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there’s definitely a role there for the MoD.

“In terms of other things we’ve no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the Army on standby – but we’re not jumping to that necessarily at the moment.”

Petrol station forecourt
Fuel pumps are out of use at a deserted Shell petrol station forecourt in Warwick (Jacob King/PA)

Industry leaders have warned drafting in the Army will not on its own end the shortages on the forecourts.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chairman Brian Madderson confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.

But he warned it was not an “absolute panacea” and that there was no “single lever” the Government and the industry could pull to resolve the crisis.

With long queues at filling stations continuing over the weekend, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced on Sunday he was temporarily suspending competition laws to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

The move came after Mr Johnson said the Government was creating 5,000 three-month visas for foreign lorry drivers in an attempt to ease the pressure on hauliers, which has been blamed over the problems.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering whether to send the Army in to drive fuel trucks amid a shortage driven by panic buying
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reportedly due to consider whether to send the Army in to drive fuel trucks amid a shortage driven by panic buying (Jeff Mitchell/PA)

A statement by Shell, ExxonMobile and other industry bodies again insisted there was no “national shortage of fuel” and that the pressures on supply were the result of “temporary spikes in customer demand”.

Mr Eustice blamed motorists for filling up when they did not need to, adding: “There isn’t a shortage. There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts but actually that is quite limited.”

But with no immediate sign of the problem easing, Mr Johnson was reported to be holding a series of meetings to consider whether to activate the military for Operation Escalin.

A fuel tanker
A fuel tanker departs a Shell oil depot in Kingsbury, Warwickshire (Jacob King/PA)

However, Mr Madderson said it was not just a question of moving supplies to the filling stations as drivers had to load up their tanks at the gantry at the terminal, which is a skilled job.

“There has been training going on in the background for military personnel,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But that’s perhaps just confined to moving the tanker by articulated truck from point A to point B.

“One of the difficulties is loading, and the tanker drivers currently load their own tanks at the gantry at the terminals, and then most are providing the delivery to the forecourt.

“This is a skilled job and we will be working with Government and industry to see how we can best move it forward.”

Watch: Fight breaks out at fuel pumps as petrol stations run dry

He said that he hoped the oil companies would be able to find extra personnel to help with the gantry loading.

He added, however: “It’s not an absolute panacea.

“There is no one single lever that is going to be pulled by Government and industry together which is going to sort this situation. It’s a matter of small levers, each contributing a little going forward.”

The panic buying spree was sparked last week after concerns from BP were leaked that the shortage of lorry drivers could impact upon its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries.

The surge in demand led the PRA to warn that as many as two thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were out of fuel on Sunday, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.

Rachel Reeves
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves (Gareth Fuller/PA)

For Labour, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the haulage industry had been warning for months about the shortage of drivers, but ministers had simply ignored them.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Since last year I have been meeting and talking with the Road Haulage Association and hauliers about some of the problems coming down the line.

“The Government ignored those problems, which is why we are now facing the situation where people go to the supermarkets and see shortages of goods on the shelves, and why they are queuing up at petrol stations and not being able to fill up their tank.

“That is not acceptable, this is an out-of-touch and complacent Government.”

Lorry driver shortage
A petrol station in Sheffield which is closed due to having no fuel (Danny Lawson/PA)

Meanwhile, Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents drivers across the Europe, said the offer of temporary visas would not be enough to attract drivers back to the UK.

“On the short-term I think that will be a dead end,” he told the Today programme.

“So more is needed, and I think the EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help UK out of the shit they created themselves.”

Watch: Temporary visa scheme expected in plan to ease supply issues up to Christmas

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