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Motorists across the UK faced long queues for fuel on Saturday and some filling stations were forced to close as supplies were exhausted.
One of the largest filling station operators, BP, estimated that between 10 and 15 per cent of its roughly 1,200 stations across the UK had run out of one or more grades of fuel, with a small number having closed.
However Downing Street insisted there remained “ample” fuel stocks and there were no shortages.
Saturday’s scenes are the latest result of an acute shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers that has led to problems with distribution of a large number of products.
Along the A24 trunk road in south London, an attendant at the Shell station on Balham Hill on Saturday afternoon was tying labels to the station’s pumps to warn drivers none had any fuel. He said the station, where there had been long queues of vehicles earlier in the day, hoped to be able to reopen later after a delivery of diesel fuel.
Further down the road, a steady stream of drivers pulled into the forecourt of an Esso station on Balham High Road before seeing that the pumps were cordoned off and driving on.
Derrick, a security guard at the station who gave only his first name, said the site, which also hosted a Tesco Express supermarket, had run out of fuel the previous night.
One driver pulling up at the station said he had driven from Chelsea — around five miles — without being able to find a filling station with fuel.
“It’s down to Brexit — no doubt about it,” he said before driving off.
The government on Friday announced plans to issue emergency, short-term visas to bring HGV drivers from mainland Europe to tackle a shortage that the Road Haulage Association, an industry group, has put at 100,000 drivers, out of a pre-pandemic total of 600,000 drivers working in the UK.
The UK’s post-Brexit points-based immigration system has made it far harder than before to bring relatively low-skilled workers, such as drivers, into the UK from mainland Europe.
Concerns about the shortage prompted long queues outside filling stations across much of the country, with some drivers reporting waits of several hours to reach the pumps and queues reported in areas as far apart as South Wales and Glasgow.
Hampshire Police did not immediately respond to a request for information about reports that a fight broke out between two drivers at a filling station in Portsmouth.
Shell, which operates around 1,000 filling stations in the UK, said it was “working hard” to secure supplies for its customers.
“Since yesterday, we have been seeing a higher-than-normal demand across our network which is resulting in some sites running low on some grades,” it said.
BP said it was experiencing shortages caused by delays in its supply chain as a result of a shortage of qualified drivers.
“The majority of the 1,200 sites we supply across the UK remain supplied and open,” it said. “However, at the moment we estimate that around 10 to 15 per cent of sites in this network currently may not have one grade of fuel or another.”
A “small number of sites” that were lacking multiple fuel grades had closed, the operator added.
However, Downing Street stuck to its insistence that the challenges resulted purely from a temporary driver shortage.
“We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages,” it said.
Downing Street blamed the problems on the after-effects of the pandemic: “Like countries around the world, we are suffering from a temporary Covid-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country.”
The government was looking at “temporary measures” to avoid “any immediate problems,” it added.