Government stands firm as fuel protests spread across UK

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister Tony Blair today ruled out Government concessions to protesters opposing the soaring price of fuel.

Prime Minister Tony Blair today ruled out Government concessions to protesters opposing the soaring price of fuel.

"We cannot and we will not alter Government policy on petrol through blockades and pickets. That's not the way to make policy in Britain and as far as I'm concerned it never will be," he said in a speech.

Mr Blair, in Loughborough to launch a campaign to boost e-commerce, added: "We fully understand, indeed we share the concerns of businesses and motorists about the high fuel price."

But he went on: "It's important to recognise that the reason for the recent rise in fuel prices is to do with the rise in world oil prices.

"The sensible way, the only right way to deal with this problem, is to put pressure on Opec, it's not to get them off the hook by caving in to pressure."

The Prime Minister said that was not just Britain's position, but the position of every government in the industrialised world.

This morning Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers refused to pledge a cut in fuel prices, claiming there was no danger of fuel supplies drying up.

He said shortages at the pumps were due to panic buying, not the effect of demonstrations.

Motorists are facing worsening fuel shortages today as the protest over pump prices spreads rapidly across the UK.

In the north west of England alone more than 100 filling stations had run out of supplies by this morning because of the fuel depot blockades, with dozens more expected to run short during the day.

A picket of around 30 hauliers kept at a standstill the giant terminal in Trafford Park Manchester which supplies Esso, Texaco and Elf outlets in the region.

And taxi drivers last night joined protesting farmers camped outside the Stanlow Shell Oil Refinery in Cheshire - scene of the first protests on Thursday night.

Spokesman Brynle Williams said cab drivers were planning to bring Liverpool to a standstill later today with a series of stoppages.

Similar protests were taking place at the Total Fina Refinery and Stiller Transport in Leeds, the Lindsey oil refinery in North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire, and the Shell UK terminal at Jarrow.

Craig Eley, a Gateshead-based haulage boss, said he hoped drivers would organise similar protests at fuel terminals in Sunderland and Middlesbrough today following slow-rolling demonstrations by truckers and farmers on the A1 in Northumbria and the main A55 coast road in north Wales yesterday.

Police in Dorset said a convoy of lorries had started a go-slow protest in the county at 6.20am, and added that up to 60 vehicles were expected to bring traffic chaos later.

About 30 drivers protested outside an Esso refinery in Hythe, near Southampton, overnight and the protest was expected to spread to the Devon port of Plymouth later today.

In Scotland lorry drivers starting a go-slow on one of the main routes into Edinburgh at about 7am, while in Wales and the south west demonstrations at the two Pembrokeshire refineries and at Avonmouth near Bristol continued peacefully overnight, police said.

An announcement by the oil-producing countries' organisation, Opec, that official output would be raised by 800,000 barrels a day brought only a slight prospect of relief from high prices.