Blair: on the way back to normal in 24 hours

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister Tony Blair said tonight that oil companies had agreed to do everything they could to get supplies to filling stations as the nation faced widespread and severe shortages.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said tonight that oil companies had agreed to do everything they could to get supplies to filling stations as the nation faced widespread and severe shortages.

Mr Blair said he hoped the fuel situation would be "on the way back to normal" within 24 hours.

He again refused to cave in to fuel price protesters and said the Government could not "possibly, responsibly" introduce an emergency budget to alter taxes on fuel.

Mr Blair said: "We have made the necessary emergency order of council. The oil companies are agreed that they must move supplies."

The Prime Minister said the police had agreed to do "all that is necessary" to protect against intimidation.

"The main union concerned has issued a strong statement urging members to work normally.

"Everything is now in place to get the tankers moving," he told reporters at a press conference in Downing Street.

Mr Blair said refuelling empty filling stations was a priority.

He said: "We hope in the next 24 hours to have the situation on the way back to normal. It will take longer than that to be fully back to normal.

Mr Blair went on: "I believe that whatever the rights or wrongs of the argument over fuel duty we cannot accept as a government or as a nation that policy should be dictated by illegal blockades, pickets or direct action.

"Whatever the strength of the feeling there can be no excuse whatever for this type of action, which is hurting our people, businesses and emergency services severely.

"Legitimate protest is one thing. Trying to bring the country to a halt is quite another - and there can be absolutely no justification for it."

Mr Blair said: "Were we to yield to that pressure it would run counter to every democratic principle this country believes in, and what is more, if the Government was to decide its policy on taxes in response to such behaviour, the credibility of economic policy vital to any country would be severely damaged and I will simply not allow that to happen.

"I should also say this however, on fuel duty itself I have always accepted that in the first two years of Government as in the last of the previous Government, fuel duty has risen by more than inflation.

"This was necessary because of the huge budget deficit and the return of public finances to a state of good health."

The Prime Minister went on: "It is only because of the decisions necessary to bring about stability in the economy and health in our public finances that we have helped to deliver the economic situation we have today and make the provision for the extra investment we are now making in public services.

"In the last budget however, the duty escalator was scrapped as you know and out of the 19p per litre rise in petrol since then only two pence has been due to the rise in fuel duty.

"The main reason for the rise has been the world oil price which, again as you know, has risen from 10 dollars a barrel to over 30 dollars.

"The figures of additional government revenue from VAT, which may I say that I have read in parts of the media, have been hugely exaggerated, since many companies can claim back the VAT they pay on the fuel they buy.

"It is true of course that as the oil price rises government revenues rise but, of course, as it falls so do government revenues."

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