Politics

Minister says army not needed for fuel crisis ‘at the moment’


The army will not be called in to ease the petrol crisis, the government says, as Boris Johnson staged an emergency meeting to discuss the option.

Ministers were considering triggering ‘Operation Escalin’, which could have seen hundreds of soldiers ordered to take over tankers, because of the shortage of drivers.

But George Eustice, the environment secretary, said: “We don’t judge that is necessary at the moment.”

The government had stoked expectations that the move was imminent, with the prime minister thought to be “preparing” to deploy troops, after at least half of local filling stations ran dry.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) reported the alarming survey of its independent members – with up to 90 per cent out of fuel, in some areas – as oil giant BP said one third of its sites had no supplies.

Government pleas for drivers to stop filling their cars “when they don’t need it” have fallen on deaf ears so far, as long queues formed at forecourts, forcing operators to ration supplies.

But Mr Eustice told broadcasters: “We always have a civil contingencies section within the army, they’re always on standby should they be needed. We don’t judge that is necessary at the moment.”

The minister continued the strategy of blaming panic-buying motorists, saying: “The most important thing is that people buy petrol as they normally would.

“There isn’t a shortage. There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts but actually that is quite limited.

“The cause of these current problems is that panic-buying episode and the most important thing is for people to start buying petrol as they normally would.”

The PRA had questioned whether the army could end the crisis, pointing out drivers also had to load up their tanks at a gantry at the terminal, which was a skilled job.

“There has been training going on in the background for military personnel,” said the organisation’s chairman Brian Madderson.

“But that’s perhaps just confined to moving the tanker by articulated truck from point A to point B. One of the difficulties is loading,” he said, adding that was “a skilled job”.

Labour is calling for looser immigration rules to ease the crisis, arguing drivers queuing for hours for petrol “couldn’t care less” if lorry drivers are foreign.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow Chancellor, called for the independent Migration Advisory Committee to decide the issue – after a miserly 5,000 visas were issued to overseas drivers.

“Most people who are queuing up this morning, whether that’s in Brighton or Leeds or wherever, to fill up their car, they couldn’t care less whether the HGV driver that’s got the petrol to the forecourt is British or foreign,” she said.

“What they want to know is that they can fill up their car or their van and go about the business – so let’s plug those gaps.”

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