Launder (CNN Business) – The fuel crisis that threatened to halt the world’s fifth-largest economy on its track appears to be easing.
Almost a week ago, British motorists found closed service stations and long lines in those that still had petrol and diesel. The shortage sparked an angry response from some people and made life difficult for drivers across the country.
The root cause was the acute shortage of tanker truck drivers, which has been exacerbated since the beginning of this year by Brexit. But panic buying only made matters worse. Government emergency measures designed to mitigate the crisis, including suspending military truck drivers, can do little to fix the underlying problem.
Here are four things to know about the crisis.
Things are finally getting better
Now there are signs that the shortage of gas stations is decreasing. The Gasoline Retailers Association, which represents independent fuel suppliers, said Wednesday that about 27% of the 5,450 service stations it monitors ran 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 commanding the fleet of tankers,” British Business Minister Kwasi Quarting told reporters on Wednesday. “The past few days have been difficult,” he admitted. “We’ve seen big queues, but I think the situation is stabilizing.”
There is already a lot of fuel
Oil companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil said in a government statement earlier this week that “there is a lot of fuel at refineries and stations in the UK”.
But the suppliers couldn’t get enough of the gas stations for two reasons.
First, there is a shortage of tanker truck drivers in the UK. This was highlighted last week when BP was forced to temporarily close some of its stations for the second time in as many months due to not enough truck drivers.
Problem two: The British responded to the BP shutdown by rushing to buy gasoline, emptying many of the country’s 8,380 service stations.
Blame it on Britain’s exit from the European Union
The shortage of truck drivers in the UK goes back years, but has recently been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has delayed the issuance of new licenses, and Britain’s exit from the European Union, which has caused tens of thousands of EU citizens to drop out of jobs in trucking and other professions in Britain. Since the beginning of this year, new post-Brexit immigration rules have made it difficult for many of them to return.
According to the Road Transport Association, the country has a shortage of about 100,000 truck drivers. Last month, the UK government said “most solutions” to the crisis would be led by employers who offer better salaries and terms, and do not want to rely on workers from outside Britain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to turn 180 degrees last weekend when he agreed to issue temporary visas to 5,000 truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to help prepare turkeys for Christmas. But he indicated on Tuesday that immigration laws were unlikely to be relaxed further.
“What I don’t think people in this country want to do is solve all our problems with uncontrolled immigration,” he said.
The UK remains vulnerable
The UK government’s emergency measures include temporary visas for foreign truck drivers and a suspension of competition law to allow suppliers to deliver fuel to competing operators. In addition to the use of army drivers, a “reserve tanker fleet” was mobilized.
But it is not clear if foreign truck drivers want a job in the UK. Temporary visas are only valid until Christmas Eve, and many drivers complain about low wages and unpleasant working conditions in the country, including a shortage of clean rest stations. This means that the UK economy is still at risk.
Providing just 5,000 visas was not enough, said Robbie MacGregor Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, comparing it to “throwing a thimble of water on a fire”.
“Without further action, we now face the very real possibility of serious damage to our economic recovery, stifled growth, and yet another Merry Christmas to many businesses and their customers across the country,” he said in a statement.
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