Nobody is to blame for the fuel crisis which has seen pumps run dry and motorists fighting over petrol at filling stations, a Home Office minister has suggested.
But petrol retailers warned that the crisis could drag on far longer, with normal conditions unlikely to return for “a number of weeks”.
More than a quarter of the nation’s service stations have no fuel, and another 20 per cent have only one grade in stock, said the Petrol Retailers Association.
PRA executive director Gordon Balmer told Bloomberg Radio: “It will take a number of weeks to get it back to more normal running levels.”.
Asked on LBC who was to blame for the supply problems leading to lengthy queues at filling stations, Mr Malthouse responded: “Does it have to be somebody’s fault?”
Host Nick Ferrari replied: “Yes, it does. There are people queuing for two and a half hours to get petrol. Something has gone wrong – normally someone is to blame.”
Reluctant to criticise the public for the recent outbreak of panic buying, the minister said there were “complicated reasons about the stimulation of demand in a period which people are anxious”.
Earlier this week transport secretary Grant Shapps admitted that Brexit was “a factor” behind the fuel crisis, sparked by a drastic shortage of lorry drivers.
The government has also committed to issuing 5,000 temporary, three-month visas to foreign drivers to encourage some EU hauliers to return to Britain. But Mr Shapps also claimed foreign workers had helped create “systemic” problems by holding down wages.
The PRA said there had been no improvement in petrol supplies at their petrol stations since Wednesday – more than a quarter (27 per cent) of its members were still out of fuel on Thursday.
Mr Malthouse claimed the situation had “stabilised” and said he hoped to see an “improvement” in the situation in the coming days.
His downbeat assessment contrasted sharply with comments by other ministers in recent days that the situation would swiftly return to normal as drivers resumed their usual buying patterns.
“My latest briefing is that the situation is stabilising, that we are seeing more forecourts with a greater supply of fuel and hopefully that, as demand and supply come better into balance over the next few days – week or so – that we will see a return to normality,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Malthouse added: “I think if things started to deteriorate further, obviously the prime minister and the secretary of state for energy, whose responsibility this is, will have to review the situation.”
One petrol station owner in Surrey condemned the government for suggesting the situation was under control. “It’s like they’re gaslighting the public. It was chaos yesterday, it was chaos today, and it will be chaos tomorrow,” the unnamed owner told the Daily Telegraph.
It comes as union leaders have attacked moves to extend the relaxation of lorry drivers’ hours amid the current shortage of workers in the sector.
Unite said the maximum number of hours that drivers can drive, due to end on Sunday, will be extended to the end of October. Ministers are to consider extending the change into the new year, the union said.
“This is yet another knee-jerk response to a crisis which has been building for nearly 20 years – and the blame for that lies entirely at the door of the employers, and their willing partners, the government,” said general secretary Sharon Graham.
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