LONDON (CNN BUSINESS) — A fuel crisis that threatened to stop the world’s fifth-largest economy in its tracks appears to be easing.
For almost a week, British motorists had closed service stations and long lines at them that still contained gasoline and diesel. The shortage prompted an angry reaction from some and made life difficult for drivers across the country.
The root cause was a severe shortage of tanker truck drivers, exacerbated by Brexit from earlier this year. But panic buying only made matters worse. Government emergency action designed to ease the crisis, including putting military truck drivers on hold, may do little to correct the underlying problem.
Here are four things to know about the crisis.
things are finally looking up
Now there are indications that the shortage at gas stations is easing. The Gasoline Retailers Association, which represents independent fuel suppliers, said Wednesday that about 27% of 5,450 service stations were out of fuel, up from 37% on Tuesday and 66% earlier this year.
“I think in the next few days people will see some soldiers running the tanker fleet,” UK Trade Secretary Quasi Quarteng told reporters on Wednesday. “The last few days have been tough,” he admitted. “We have seen large queues, but I think the situation is stabilizing.”
really a lot of fuel
Oil companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil said in a statement issued by the government earlier this week that “the UK has a lot of fuel at its refineries and terminals.”
But the suppliers could not get enough of the gas stations for two reasons.
First, there is a shortage of tank truck drivers in the UK. That was highlighted last week when BP was forced to temporarily close some of its stations for the second time in as many months because there weren’t enough truck drivers.
The second problem: The British reacted to the BP shutdown to buy gasoline, emptying many of the country’s 8,380 service stations.
Brexit is to blame
The UK truck driver shortage dates back years, but has recently been exacerbated by the pandemic, which delayed the issuance of new licences, and Brexit, which left thousands of EU citizens out. His trucking jobs and other businesses in the UK. Since the beginning of this year, new post-Brexit immigration rules have made it even more difficult for many of them to return.
According to the Road Transport Association, there is a shortage of about one lakh truck drivers in the country. Last month, the UK government said “most of the solution” to the crisis would be driven by employers who offer better pay and conditions, and do not want to depend on workers from outside the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to take a 180-degree turn last weekend after he agreed to issue temporary visas to 5,000 more truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to help process the Christmas turkey . But he said on Tuesday that immigration laws are unlikely to be further relaxed.
“I don’t think the people of this country want to solve all our problems with uncontrolled immigration,” he said.
Britain remains weak
The UK government’s emergency measures include temporary visas for foreign truck drivers and the suspension of competition law to allow suppliers to supply fuel to rival operators. In addition to using troop drivers, a “reserve tanker fleet” was also mobilized.
But it is not clear whether foreign truck drivers want jobs in the UK. Temporary visas are only valid until Christmas Eve, and many drivers complain about low pay and unpleasant working conditions in the country, including a lack of clean rest stops. This means the UK economy is still at risk.
Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, said granting just 5,000 visas was insufficient, comparing it to “throwing a drop of water on a bonfire”.
“Without further action, we now face the very real possibility of less serious damage to our economic recovery, stunted growth, and the joy of Christmas for many companies and their customers across the country,” he said in a statement.
“Wannabe troublemaker. Pop culture fanatic. Zombie nerd. Lifelong bacon advocate. Alcohol enthusiast. Tv junkie.”