UK’s exit from EU ‘no doubt will have been a factor’, transport secretary concedes
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has admitted that Brexit has been “factor” behind the fuel crisis – despite his previous claims the UK’s exit from the EU had helped the country adjust to supply chain problems.
The cabinet minister insisted last week that cynics were “wrong” to blame Brexit for the drastic shortage of lorry drivers causing petrol shortages and the closure of forecourts.
Mr Shapps continued to argue on Tuesday that the main cause of the fuel shortages had been the cancellation of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver tests last year due to the pandemic.
Egter, the transport secretary added: “Brexit I hear mentioned a lot, and it no doubt will have been a factor.”
Speaking to broadcasters, Mr Shapps said: "Aan die ander kant, it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly. So, it has actually worked in both ways.”
The minister has argued that Britain’s divorce from the EU had presented “solutions” to the crisis by allowing more “slots” to become available for HGV drivers tests. “I have seen people point to Brexit as the culprit here when in fact they are wrong,” he had claimed on Friday.
Mr Shapps also rejected criticism that the government has been too slow to mobilise the Army to help deal with the fuel crisis.
Ministers have announced they were putting troops on standby to deliver supplies as filling stations continued to run dry. “There is a series of escalations that you go through in a crisis like this,” the transport secretary told broadcasters.
“We have already put 18 different steps in place which stretch right the way back to the spring. The system was just about coping until last weekend and it would have been capable of continuing to do so.”
Mr Shapps also condemned motorists who tried to fill up plastic water bottles with petrol as the panic buying continued.
“It is dangerous and extremely unhelpful," hy het gesê. "Ongelukkig, as we have seen with toilet rolls and other things, once people start to pursue a particular item, it can quickly escalate.”
Mr Shapps also claimed there were early signs that pressure on filling stations is beginning to ease. “There are now the first very tentative signs of stabilisation in forecourt storage which won’t be reflected in the queues as yet," hy het gesê.
Egter, the panic buying of petrol shows no sign of ending on Tuesday. Brian Madderson, chair of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) told the BBC that “disappointingly” people were continuing to panic buy fuel.
Intussen, Mike Granatt, the former head of the civil contingencies secretariat, said it was time for Boris Johnson to stop “hiding away” and make clear announcement about the scale of the fuel crisis to discourage panic buying.
Ministers are holding another meeting on Tuesday to monitor the fuel crisis. The government has announced that Army tanker drivers have been put on stanby to ease the short of hauliers and help deliver fuel in order to reduce disruption at petrol stations.
Under pressure to ease the crisis, the government also plans to issue 5,000 temporary three-month visas to foreign drivers.
Mr Shapps last week suggested that foreign workers had helped create “systemic” problems in haulage – saying UK wages had been held down by “importing cheap European, often eastern European labour”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the shortage of drivers was a “catastrophic failure of leadership” by Mr Shapps and others in government.
“I and other shadow cabinet colleagues wrote to Grant Shapps back in July highlighting these issues," hy het gesê. “We got very short shrift from Grant Shapps, who wrote back to us in the first week of August saying … he wouldn’t be using foreign labour to solve this issue.”