The British government is taking further emergency measures to deal with the fuel distribution crisis, which showed few signs of abating on Saturday, particularly in London and the southeast of England.
Some 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, will be deployed from Monday to relieve pressure at the pumps, as long queues were still seen at petrol stations until the weekend.
The army had been put on standby for such a move earlier this week.
The Conservative government has also announced that 300 fuel drivers will be able to come to Britain from abroad “immediately” and stay until March.
The fuel crisis is the latest in a list of problems related to labor shortages caused by the pandemic and Brexit, with supply problems also hitting the shelves of supermarkets, fast-food chains and pubs.
The U.K. government has also extended an emergency visa program for food truck drivers to ease pressure on a creaking supply chain. Industry estimates put the shortage of truck drivers at around 100,000.
Temporary visas for nearly 5,000 foreign truck drivers are scheduled to run from the end of October through the end of February, rather than expiring on Christmas Eve as originally planned.
The Christmas deadline for the program, announced last week, was widely criticized for not being attractive enough to attract foreign drivers.
Long queues have been forming for more than a week at gas stations, which are suffering severe supply problems due to a shortage of tanker drivers. Confrontations between drivers broke out in some places as tensions rose.
On Saturday morning the government once again claimed that the petrol situation was improving.
“UK forecourt stock levels are trending up, deliveries of fuel to forecourts are above normal levels, and fuel demand is stabilising,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said. “It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal.”
However, the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent filling stations, warned that fuel supplies remain a problem and could be getting worse in places, particularly in London and the southeast of England.
The group’s chairman, Brian Madderson, welcomed the deployment of military drivers next week but warned it would have a limited impact.
“This isn’t going to be the major panacea,” he told BBC Radio. “It’s a large help, but in terms of the volume, they are not going to be able to carry that much.”
Opposition parties are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recall parliament next week to address the wider situation of labour shortages and disruptions to supply chains.
In recent months, many companies have reported shortages, including fast-food chains KFC, McDonald’s and Nando’s. Supermarket shelves have also looked barren, and fears have grown that they will not be stocked as usual in the run-up to Christmas.
In an attempt to stave off a shortage of Christmas turkeys, the government also announced that a total of 5,500 foreign poultry workers will be allowed into the UK from late October. They will now be able to stay until the end of the year, a one-week extension of the earlier announced deadline of Christmas Eve.
Johnson’s pro-Brexit government is keen to downplay talk that the driver shortage is a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
However, when the country left the economic orbit of the EU at the start of this year, one of the bloc’s main tenets ceased to apply — the freedom of people to move within the EU to find work. With Brexit, many tens of thousands of drivers left the UK to go back to their homes in the EU, further pressuring an industry already facing long-term staffing issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, prompting thousands of EU drivers to return to their home countries. The UK’s series of lockdowns also led to difficulties in training and testing new domestic drivers to replace those who left.
In addition, the pandemic accelerated the number of British drivers choosing to retire. Relatively low pay, changes in the way truck drivers’ incomes are taxed and a paucity of facilities — toilets and showers, for example — have also diminished the job’s appeal to younger workers.