The military could be deployed as lorry drivers to help tackle Britain’s growing fuel crisis, the transport secretary has said.
Grant Shapps said the government would consider bringing in soldiers to drive trucks or train others if the drastic shortage of heavy good vehicle (HGV) drivers continued to hit the supply of petrol.
BP was forced to ration petrol deliveries and close down some of its filling stations on Thursday, while Esso said a small number of its Tesco forecourts have also been impacted by shortages.
Asked on LBC whether military could soon step in, Mr Shapps said soldiers could be deployed across “a wide range of different things – from of course helping to test, to helping to drive”.
The minister also told BBC Breakfast: “With regards to things like whether there’s a role for the military, obviously if there is, if that can actually help, we will bring them in.”
Mr Shapps added: “There will be technicalities as to whether they can immediately switch over to commercial trucks and so on, there could be other roles for them such as in driver testing and training. I am ruling nothing out.”
Ministers have reportedly discussed whether soldiers should be put on standby to drive tankers to petrol stations if shortages continue.
A contingency plan known as Operation Escalin would only be ordered if the situation got significantly worse, according to The Times.
The transport secretary attempted to dissuade drivers from panic buying petrol – telling motorists to “carry on as normal” and promising to “move heaven and earth” to keep good moving.
Mr Shapps denied that Brexit was the culprit in the UK’s dire shortage of lorry drivers, arguing that the split from the EU had allowed the government to bring in more driving tests.
“I’ve seen people point to Brexit as if it is the culprit here. In fact, they are wrong,” he told Sky News. “Brexit actually has provided part of the solution of giving more slots available for HGV tests.”
Mr Shapps also told the broadcaster the wages for hauliers had been held down by “importing cheap European, often eastern European labour, undercutting the domestic market and creating more long-term problems”.
He added: “What I don’t want to do, and I’ve been hinting at this, is undercut with, as has happened before, cheaper European drivers and then find our drivers drop out because they are being undercut. That doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates a new problem.”
Despite the increase in driving tests, Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) trade body said that the government had allowed the driver shortage to get “gradually worse” in recent months.
“We have got a shortage of 100,000 (drivers),” he told BBC’s Newsnight – pointing to the 20,000 European drivers lost because to Brexit, on top of historic shortfalls in the workforce.
Some of the UK’s largest businesses and industry bodies have joined the RHA in asking the government to relax visa requirements to allow more overseas drivers to work in the UK.
BP is understood to have asked the government for similar support on a temporary basis.
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