Industry leaders are warning of gaps on shelves because of an “unimaginable” collapse of supply chains triggered by a shortfall of at least 60,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.
Sweets giant Haribo is among firms struggling to get stocks into shops because of “a perfect storm” of EU drivers shunning the UK and driving tests being cancelled because of the pandemic.
Boris Johnson was confronted about the problems in the Commons, but ducked a call to relax post-Brexit immigration rules to allow more drivers to work in this country.
Now it has been revealed that the suggestion to use the army was raised at a meeting of industry representatives and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
A delegate from Premier Foods, which owns brands including Mr Kipling, Bisto, Ambrosia and Paxo, pointed out that some military personnel hold HGV licences.
“This was one of many ideas put forward in an industry brainstorming session,” a spokesperson said, while insisting the firm had “plans in place to manage the situation within our supply chain”.
At the meeting, a representative of Asda, Britain’s third-largest supermarket group after Tesco and Sainsbury’s, said the company was “just about keeping our head above water”.
But they warned that any spike in demand this summer would “give us significant challenges and disruption”.
The British Retail Consortium said: “The government must rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place while also looking for a longer-term solution to this issue.”
The Road Haulage Association has also urged the prime minister to act, warning that overseas drivers are unsure of their rights in relation to working in the UK following its withdrawal from the EU.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson was urged by a Scottish National Party MP to “add HGV drivers to the UK shortage occupation list”.
“Everybody knows that there have been huge problems with the shortage of HGV drivers in this country, and that has only been compounded further by Brexit,” David Linden warned.
In response, the prime minister said: “I think the most important thing is to get our entire workforce back at work.
“There are currently millions of people still on furlough. Of course there are labour shortages at the moment, but we need to get people back into work, and that is why we have to continue to roll out the vaccines in the way that we are.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said it had not received a formal request to provide support, and a government spokesperson said: “There are no plans to use military personnel in this scenario.”
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