Britain’s Gas Crisis, ExplainedBritain’s Gas Crisis, Explained

A shortage of truck drivers has led to empty fuel pumps around the country, creating long lines at gas stations and panic buying.


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LONDON — Drivers in Britain have been rushing to gas stations to fill up, amid a fuel shortage that has lasted days. Long lines at gas stations and rising fuel prices are the latest challenges that the country faces as it emerges from the pandemic.

Here’s a look at what’s been happening.





British Officials Urge Calm Amid Fuel Shortage

Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Britain, asked motorists to fill up only when they needed to, as a dearth of truck drivers has led to delayed deliveries of fuel and long lines at gas stations across the country.

“I know how frustrating, infuriating, it must have been to worry about shortage of petrol or fuel. We now are starting to see the situation improve. We’re hearing from industry that supplies are coming back onto the forecourts in the normal way. And I would just really urge everybody to just go about their business in the normal way and fill up in the normal way, when you really need it.” “It’s a lot of petrols now being transferred into people’s cars, and now I — are now, the first very tentative signs of stabilization in the forecourt storage, which won’t be reflected in the queues as yet, but it’s the first time we’ve seen more petrol in the petrol stations itself. I think, as the industry said yesterday, the sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal. And we all need to play our part and certainly don’t do things like bring water bottles to petrol stations. It’s dangerous and extremely unhelpful.”

Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Britain, asked motorists to fill up only when they needed to, as a dearth of truck drivers has led to delayed deliveries of fuel and long lines at gas stations across the country.CreditCredit…Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Is this the 1970s all over again? Why is there a gas shortage?

Across London and other parts of Britain, gas stations (called “petrol stations” here) have run out of fuel.

The shortages have drawn comparisons to the global energy crises of the 1970s, when an OPEC oil embargo led to widespread shortages. But unlike then, the current shortage is not one of fuel but of trained drivers to deliver it.

Truck drivers tend to be older, and they are retiring. At the same time, driver trainees are facing delays in getting licensed because of the pandemic. Transport companies have reported raising wages for truck drivers by 25 percent or more this year to retain them.

The shortage has also caused problems for restaurants, which are struggling to obtain food, and grocery stores, which have been unable to replenish shelves.

Drivers, concerned about reports of empty gas stations, have also been panic buying fuel in recent days, which has exacerbated the shortages.

Brexit is a contributing factor, but not the only problem.

Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has made labor shortages worse, but it’s not the sole cause. The Road Haulage Association, a trade association of road transport operators, estimates that Britain is facing a shortfall of 100,000 drivers. About 20 percent of those are drivers who left Britain after it voted to leave the European Union.

In an effort to attract drivers, the government has increased the number of hours they can work each day and has sped up the licensing process. It has also offered 5,000 three-month work visas to foreign truckers and to suspend rules that prevent oil companies from coordinating deliveries.

But some government critics say that may not be enough to address the long-running shortage of drivers. About 200,000 E.U. citizens left Britain during the pandemic, on top of the thousands who have left since 2016, when Britain voted in a referendum to leave the European Union and signaled it would impose limits on immigration from the bloc. That has made it harder for companies — including those in the haulage, hospitality and food supply sectors — to fill empty positions with overseas hires

The military is on standby in case the situation worsens.

There were signs that the situation was beginning to stabilize, with more gas stations reporting that they had fuel than in recent days, according to the Petrol Retailers Association. Officials are hoping that normal purchasing patterns will resume now that many Britons have rushed to fill up their tanks over the past few days, alleviating the pressure on supplies.

But if the fuel crisis worsens, the government has put 150 military tanker drivers on standby.


Signs at a gas station in Paddock Wood, England, on Monday signaling the pumps were out of stock.Credit…Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Taxi drivers, food suppliers and others whose livelihoods depend on driving said they were still concerned.

Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, said that 25 to 30 percent of the group’s members could not get fuel on Tuesday and were unable to work. “A taxi driver without fuel is unemployed,” he told the BBC on Wednesday.

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