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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has dismissed claims that Brexit is partly to blame for a shortage of HGV drivers.
Some of the UK’s largest fuel providers have been forced to close a small number of petrol stations, warning the shortage of HGV drivers was disrupting fuel supplies.
BP said on Thursday a “handful” of its petrol stations had been forced to shut because of a lack of access to fuel, while Esso and Tesco also reported problems with supply.
Ministers have been urged to take action to tackle the shortage, including by considering easing immigration rules to allow foreign drivers to apply for jobs with firms struggling to get staff.
Rod McKenzie, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association, said the government had let the situation get “gradually worse” in recent months, and said allowing foreign drivers to get “seasonal visas” could be a “very short-term” measures to ease pressures.
Other labour shortages, including in some parts of supply chains, have been blamed on post-Brexit rules, but speaking on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted Brexit had instead helped ease the HGV driver shortage.
“I’ve seen people point to Brexit as if it is the culprit here, in fact they are wrong,” he told Sky News.“Not only are there very large, and even larger shortages in other EU countries like Poland and Germany, which clearly can’t be to do with Brexit, but actually because of Brexit I’ve been able to change the law to alter the way our driving tests operate in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU.”
He added: “So Brexit actually has provided part of the solution of giving more slots available for HGV tests and a lot more, twice as many tests available now than before the pandemic and a large proportion of those we have only been able to do because we are not in the EU.”
Shapps said the government would “move heaven and earth” to solve the issue, adding that he would not rule out drafting in soldiers to drive fuel tankers.
“If it can actually help, we will bring them in,” he said.
Downing Street has urged the public not to panic buy petrol in the wake of the shortage, which comes just days after a CO2 shortage threatened to disrupt the UK’s food and drink supply.
But Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said the shortage was a “rapidly worsening crisis that the government has failed to heed the warnings of for a decade”.
He added: “Sticking plaster solutions are not going to solve it. Ministers must take decisive steps now to tackle the 90,000 driver shortfall.”
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