London (CNN Business) — The fuel crisis that threatens to halt the world’s fifth-largest economy appears to be abating.
For nearly a week, British motorists have found closed service stations and long queues at places where petrol and diesel are still available. The shortage sparked an angry response from some and made life difficult for drivers across the country.
The root cause is an acute shortage of tanker drivers, exacerbated since the start of this year by Brexit. But panic buying makes things worse. The government’s emergency measures designed to ease the crisis, including detaining army truck drivers, have done little to fix the underlying problem.
Here are four things to know about the crisis.
Things are finally seen
Now there are signs the shortage at gas stations is waning. The Association of Gasoline Retailers, which represents independent fuel suppliers, said Wednesday that about 27 percent of the 5,450 service stations monitored were running out of fuel, up from 37 percent Tuesday and 66% earlier this year.
“I think in the next few days people will see some soldiers piloting a fleet of tankers,” UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told reporters on Wednesday. “The last few days have been tough,” he admits. “We’ve seen big queues, but I think the situation is stable.”
There’s actually 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 “there is a lot of fuel in UK refineries and terminals.”
But providers can’t get enough for gas stations for two reasons.
First, there is a shortage of tanker 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 due to insufficient truck drivers.
Second problem: Britain reacted to BP’s shutdown by rushing to buy gasoline, emptying many of the country’s 8,380 gas stations.
Brexit is to blame
The shortage of truck drivers in Britain has existed for several years, but has recently been exacerbated by the pandemic, which delayed the issuance of new permits, and Brexit, which saw tens of thousands of EU citizens leave. . Since the start of this year, new post-Brexit immigration rules have made it difficult for many of them to return.
According to the Truck Association, the country is short of about 100,000 truck drivers. Last month, the British government said “most solutions” to the crisis would be driven by employers offering better wages and conditions, and not wanting to rely on workers from outside the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to take a 180-degree turn last weekend when he agreed to issue temporary visas to 5,000 more truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to help process Christmas turkeys. But he noted Tuesday that immigration laws are unlikely to be relaxed further.
“What I don’t think people in this country want to do is solve all of our problems with unchecked immigration,” he said.
England remains vulnerable
The UK Government’s emergency measures include temporary visas for foreign truck drivers and the suspension of competition laws to allow suppliers to deliver fuel to rival carriers. In addition to using army engineers, a “reserve tanker fleet” was also deployed.
But it’s not clear whether foreign truck drivers want jobs in the UK. Temporary visas are only valid until Christmas Eve, and many drivers complain about the country’s low wages and unpleasant working conditions, including a lack of clean rest areas. That means the UK economy is still at risk.
Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chamber of Commerce, said that offering 5,000 visas alone was not enough, likening it to “throwing a thimble of water at a campfire.”
“Without further action, we now face the very real prospect of serious damage to our economic recovery, restrained growth and an unpleasant Christmas for many companies and their clients across the country,” it said in a statement.
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