Hundreds of soldiers could be rushed to deliver fuel to dry gas stations across the country amid panic buying and a shortage of drivers as part of an emergency plan that should be considered by Boris Johnson Monday.
The Prime Minister will convene ministers to review “Operation Escalin” after BP admitted that a third of its service stations ran out of the two main grades of fuel, while the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents nearly 5,500 independent outlets said 50 to 90% of its members said they were exhausted. He predicted the rest would follow soon.
Developments have raised concerns that the UK is heading for a second ‘winter of discontent’ and warnings that shelves may be more empty than usual as Christmas approaches.
In a bid to prevent the crisis from worsening further, ministers including Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Home Secretary Priti Patel met at noon on Sunday to discuss options , including Operation Escalin.
It was designed years ago when planning a no-deal Brexit and would see hundreds of troops enlisted to lead a reserve fleet of 80 tankers. It is understood that full implementation would take up to three weeks, as some of those mobilized may already be on other deployments and others may be Reservists. Escalin was touted as an option last week, but government sources have played down the chances of its activation.
Another measure that is said to be under consideration is the temporary change in regulations, which means that fuel companies have to rely on specific distributors. Relaxing these would allow other companies to step in to make deliveries if they have drivers available, in order to speed up the process.
The proposals will be submitted to Johnson tomorrow afternoon, at a meeting where ministers are also expected to discuss more immediate solutions to try to influence people’s behavior and end current panic buying levels.
Ministers are exasperated as they believe the actual extent of fuel shortages would have been minimal if the public had acted normally, and the shortage of heavy truck drivers would have had only a marginal effect, but the media has provoked complaints. queues in front of forecourt across the country. The PRA said demand at a gas station increased 500% on Saturday compared to last week.
A source suggested that a high level of shortage would last at least five more days – and could last even longer if people’s behavior doesn’t change. They called the situation a “catch-22” because by intervening the government could end up making the problem worse: “The more we seem to react to this, the more we end up driving it. But if we don’t react, it continues. We almost generate our own crisis.
The shortage has also had major ripple effects that ministers believe urgently needs to be addressed, with teachers and doctors unable to fill their tanks to get to school or hospital. The blunt communication strategy of insisting that there is no shortage of fuel is likely to be misplaced to urge people to be careful of others when shopping for gasoline.
Attention also turns to Christmas. Kate Martin of the Traditional Farm-fresh Turkey Association (TFTA) said the UK could face a “national shortage” of turkeys as December approaches.
The TFTA, which represents producers of free-range turkeys, said it was “100% caused by a labor shortage” due to post-Brexit immigration rules, meaning that “a whole host” of labor is “no longer available for use on a seasonal basis.”
The British Retail Consortium also said moves to ease immigration rules to address supply chain issues were “too little, too late” for Christmas.
Andrew Opie, the group’s director of food and sustainability policy, predicted to the BBC that during the holiday season shoppers would see “less choice, less availability, maybe also a shorter shelf life, this which is really disappointing because it could have been avoided ”.
Labor shadow secretary Jim McMahon said the government’s solution to streamline heavy-duty testing and grant around 5,000 additional visas for drivers and 5,000 more for poultry workers was “not enough. good “. He said if ministers don’t do more, “the shelves will continue to be bare, with drugs not delivered and a wasted Christmas for the nation.”
Conservative MP David Morris explained the scale of the challenge facing the government. He said: “I remember the winter of discontent and I remember what was coming and it reminds me very, very.”
Morris told The Guardian: “We’re not that close to that yet, but there are perfect analogies to storms that could put us in this territory.” He stressed that this was a “historic problem” that ministers were trying to resolve, but admitted that the pressure Covid was likely to put on the NHS this winter and that the impending end of the increase universal credit would make it a difficult winter for many.
Shapps urged people on Sunday to “be reasonable” and blamed “one of the trucking associations” for what he called a manufactured crisis, suggesting on Sky News that the group leaked details of a meeting last week on driver shortages at fuel companies. However, the Road Haulage Association called it a “shameful attack” concocted to “distract” from the government’s handling of the problem.