Queues snaking back from forecourts, garages pumped dry, the Prime Minister accused of presiding over a shambles. But there was one piece of good news for the Government from the ongoing row over fuel tanker drivers' threatened strike action: the petrol panic buying triggered by ministers' advice will bring an extra £32m to the Treasury.
Sales of petrol are estimated to have risen 81 per cent in just 24 hours and diesel by 43 per cent following the Government's exhortation that drivers keep tanks topped up.
Dorset Police were so concerned about forecourt queues tailing out into main roads that they asked some petrol stations to close.
Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, accused David Cameron of incompetence and demanded apologies from both him and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who had urged the public to hoard petrol.
"The Prime Minister is presiding over a shambles on petrol," he said. "In a delicate situation which demanded statesmanship, the Government showed partisanship. They made a crude decision to play politics with petrol without regard for the consequence."
Yet the Chancellor, George Osborne, insisted that advice given by ministers was part of "sensible contingency plans". The situation looks unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future. Talks aimed at heading off a strike by tanker drivers in the Unite union – one of Labour's main funders – will now not take place until at least Monday, officials from the industrial conciliation service Acas said last night.
AA president Edmund King said: "There is no fuel tanker strike and therefore if drivers followed normal fuel buying patterns there would be no fuel shortage whatsoever. Even if we do have a strike, which is unlikely, there will be seven days' notice... and therefore time for drivers to fill up.
"We now have self-inflicted shortages due to poor advice about topping up the tank and hoarding in jerry cans. This... has led to localised shortages, queues and some profiteering."Reuse content