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British gas stations run dry from panic buying amid a truck driver shortage

Sign at gas station in England warning of no more fuel
A gas station in Bracknell, England, warns motorists Sunday that it’s out of fuel.
(Steve Parsons / Press Assn.)

Thousands of British gas stations ran dry Sunday, an industry group said, as motorists scrambled to fill up amid a supply disruption from a shortage of truck drivers.

The Petrol Retailers Assn., which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had sold out their fuel, with the rest “partly dry and running out soon.”

Association chairman Brian Madderson said the shortages were the result of “panic buying, pure and simple.”

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“There is plenty of fuel in this country, but it is in the wrong place for the motorists,” he told the BBC. “It is still in the terminals and the refineries.”

Long lines of vehicles formed at many gas stations over the weekend, and tempers frayed as some drivers waited for hours. Police were called to one London gas station Sunday after a scuffle broke out. Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of assault.

The haulage industry says Britain is short tens of thousands of truckers owing to a perfect storm of factors that include the COVID-19 pandemic, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following the U.K.'s exit from the European Union.

After a brief decline, gasoline prices in the U.S. are climbing again.

Several other countries, including the U.S. and Germany, also are experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. The problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps.

After weeks of mounting pressure, Britain’s Conservative government announced Saturday that it would issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkeys or toys for many British families. The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers starting in October, and 5,500 more for poultry workers.

British media reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also considering calling up army troops to help deliver fuel. Such a move was also considered nine years ago, when fuel-tanker drivers threatened to strike and motorists began panic buying and hoarding gas.

Industry groups welcomed the new visa plan, although the British Retail Consortium said it was “too little, too late.”

Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.”


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