Johnson Says Fuel Crisis Easing, Urges Britons to Buy Normally
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson said the U.K.’s fuel crisis is stabilizing, as he pushed back against industry demands to issue more visas to foreign truckers to fix the ructions in the country’s supply chains.
The prime minister was speaking publicly for the first time on the fuel shortages which have dominated news bulletins for days, amid tailbacks and panic-buying at gas stations which left many without fuel. The crisis forced him into a series of emergency measures, including suspending antitrust laws and putting the Army on standby to help with deliveries.
“On the forecourts the situation is stabilizing and people should be confident and just go about their business in the normal way,” Johnson told broadcasters. “We’re hearing from industry that supplies are coming back.”
But Johnson’s government is struggling to show it is gaining control of a supply chain crisis that has repeatedly hit during the pandemic, including emptying supermarket shelves, amid an estimated 100,000 shortfall of truck drivers Johnson’s opponents say has been exacerbated by Brexit.
That makes the issue tricky for Johnson, who led the campaign to split the U.K. from its biggest trading partner and critically, signed the divorce deal and trade agreement that cut the supply of labor from the EU’s seamless market.
On Tuesday, he pushed back against demands to allow more foreign truckers into the U.K. to help ease the crisis.
“What I don’t think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration again,” Johnson said. “We tried that for a long time, 20 years or so, perhaps longer, and in the end people could see it was leading to a low-wage, low-skill approach without enough investment in people or in equipment.”
The government has tried to shift the focus away from Brexit, instead attributing the crisis on the surge in demand caused by an economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson also blamed a “misleading account of events that got leaked,” sparking panic-buying.
Still, the government did back down -- on a very limited scale -- over the weekend, announcing it would issue 5,000 short-term visas for truckers, and 5,500 for poultry workers, to try to plug labor shortages in both industries.
Business groups said the measures were nowhere near enough, and the opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the visas should be extended to six months from three months for them to have an impact.
‘Failed to Plan’
“This problem was predictable and predicted and the government has absolutely failed to plan,” he told the BBC.
Meanwhile data from the U.K. Petrol Retailers Association supported the government view that the fuel crisis is easing, though it warned a return to normal operations is still several days away.
About 37% of service stations represented by the association reported being out of fuel on Tuesday morning, compared with more than 50% on Sunday. But there were still long lines at locations that had been resupplied, prolonging the anguish and disruption suffered by motorists since the crisis broke last week.
The improving picture reduces the likelihood that Army truck drivers will be deployed to distribute fuel around the country. Still, the scene on London’s streets early on Tuesday suggested the crisis still had some way to run. From Woodford New Road in north London to the Albert Embankment opposite Parliament and Sevenoaks, south of the capital, many sites still had no fuel.
“I would really urge everybody to go about their business in the normal way and fill up in the normal way when you really need it,” Johnson said.
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