LONDON: People buying fuel when they do not need it are the cause of queues at petrol stations and empty pumps, the environment secretary has said. George Eustice said there was “plenty of petrol” and urged people to buy it in the way they usually do.
There were no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to drive tankers, he said.
But sources told the BBC that ministers are still seriously considering using the Army to help distribute petrol.
Meanwhile, doctors and home care staff have called for essential workers to be given priority for fuel.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents nearly 5,500 of the UK’s 8,000 filling stations, warned on Sunday that up to two-thirds of outlets were out of fuel, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.
But Mr Eustice said the UK’s fuel supply was at normal levels and the fears of disruption which had led to panic buying over recent days were unfounded.
“The only reason we don’t have petrol in forecourts is because people are buying petrol when they don’t need it,” he said.
He said the lack of HGV drivers would have been “entirely manageable” if it were not for the reaction to media coverage about a limited number of forecourt closures.
“Things will calm down. Those who are anxious – many of them will have filled up their cars with petrol now and things will then return to normal.”
Mr Eustice said there were always civil contingency plans involving the Army but it was not thought necessary to call them in at the moment.
Downing Street denied that the government was blaming the public, saying: “We completely understand people’s anxiety. That’s why we’re doing everything possible to reassure people that stocks are secure.”
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said the industry had problems with a shortage of HGV drivers but it only became a “critical situation” when a submission by BP to the cabinet was leaked, sparking widespread coverage and panic buying.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy for Logistics UK, told Today that it would be “days, possibly a couple of weeks” before the visa applications were open.
She said the industry had wanted more visas to be available and for a longer time, but she said the key issue now was to make them attractive to drivers, which was likely to mean offering good wages.
The UK had lost 72,000 drivers between the second quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2021, Ms de Jong said – partly due to people returning to the EU after Brexit.
At the same time, she said the pandemic had disrupted testing for HGV licences, making it harder to replace the lost drivers.
But Mr Eustice denied that Brexit had been a major factor in the driver shortage.
“None of this is because we have left the European Union,” he said. “The biggest factor has been Covid.”