Militant truck drivers who brought fuel supplies to a standstill by blockading oil refineries 12 years ago said they were prepared to repeat their protest in support of striking hauliers.
Any sympathy move by truckers, who are campaigning against high taxes on diesel fuel, could complicate government attempts to use army drivers to move essential supplies of fuel around the UK in the event of a strike.
Union leaders representing the hauliers are due to meet employers at the conciliation service Acas today. If the talks are not successful they must give seven days' notice of their intention to strike. But in a significant upping of the ante, Andrew Spence, who was instrumental in the blockades in 2000 which led to 3,000 petrol stations running out of fuel, said he and fellow campaigners would "bring Britain to a halt".
The father of three, who runs a farm and plant hire firm in Co Durham, said: "We have been in negotiations with the tanker drivers since 2000 and have been aware of their grievances for some time. We've said to them we may have to stand beside them in any protest. We are better organised than we were in 2000. This time we'll bring the Government down."
But the hauliers' union Unite last night condemned Mr Spence's scheme. "This has got nothing to do with us. Our aim is not to cause panic or chaos and it is a totally separate issue. We want to negotiate a settlement and minimum standards for working," it said.
Labour leader Ed Miliband will use a speech today to accuse the Government of "playing politics with petrol supplies" but the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, claimed that Britain was now better prepared to withstand a strike because of the actions taken by the Government over the past week. Last night, queues on petrol-station forecourts appeared to have shortened compared with the chaotic scenes of last week.
Mr Hague said: "Had they not set out the precautions that people should take and alerted people to the situation, then if the strike took place in the coming weeks, it'd be said they were complacent and hadn't prepared the country." Privately, senior figures in the government believe the advice was badly handled.