Europe

UK mulls easing visa rules for lorry drivers amid fuel supply problems

The UK government is weighing up making a U-turn and easing visa rules for lorry drivers to help ease supply problems.

Some petrol stations have had to close in recent days because there are not enough qualified drivers to distribute fuel around the country. There have also been reports of empty supermarket shelves due to supply issues.

The industry says it”s short of tens of thousands of lorry drivers.

The COVID pandemic, an ageing workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Brexit have all been cited as reasons.

New immigration rules introduced after Brexit mean EU citizens can no longer live and work visa-free in the UK.

The Road Haulage Association had urged the government in June to ease visa rules to help improve the situation.

Britain’s farming and food processing industries, which are short of fruit-pickers and meat-packers, have made similar requests.

London resisted, saying British workers should be trained up to take the jobs. It has stressed that Britain is not short of fuel, but that has not stopped motorists forming lines at petrol stations to fill up just in case.

Then, late on Friday, the government said it was now “looking at temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems”.

It added any action it took would be “very strictly time-limited”.

Sporadic supply chains at supermarkets and other shops starting several weeks ago also were attributed to a lack of delivery drivers.

BP and Esso shut a handful of their stations in Britain this week because there were not enough truckers to get gas to the pumps. EG Group, which operates about 400 UK petrol stations, said it was limiting purchases to £30 ( €35).

In a statement, the government said Britain had “ample fuel stocks.”

“But like countries around the world, we are suffering from a temporary COVID-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country,” it said, not acknowledging Brexit as a factor.

The head of the Confederation of British Industry, Tony Danker, said the driver shortage was in part “a Brexit hangover”

“We had several drivers go home that we wouldn’t have wanted to go home, and I think there is this bigger question of the immigration system, and it’s a complicated one,” he told the BBC.

Danker said easing visa rules would be “a huge relief”.

“It’s a shame the government needed queues at the pumps to move, but move I hope they have, and it will help,” he said.

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