| 26 May 2024, Sunday |

Britain expected to ease visa rules as truck driver shortage bites

Britain is likely to unveil plans to give temporary visas to truck drivers in order to address a severe labor shortage that has resulted in fuel rationing at certain gas stations and store warnings of major disruptions in the run-up to Christmas.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it was considering interim steps to solve the lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers as lines formed outside gas stations early Saturday.

Newspapers claimed that the government will let up to 5,000 foreign drivers into the country on short-term visas, a move that logistics businesses and merchants had been clamoring for for months but that the administration has previously dismissed.

According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Britain requires 100,000 additional drivers to satisfy demand. Part of the reason for the driver shortage is due to Brexit and COVID-19, as well as the loss of roughly a year of driver training and testing.

“We’re looking at interim steps to prevent any immediate issues,” a spokesperson for Johnson’s Downing Street office said in a statement. “Any measures we implement will be very tightly time limited.”

Downing Street declined to give further details.

Ministers have cautioned against panic buying, and oil companies say there is no shortage of supplies, merely problems delivering the fuel to the gas stations.

However, long lines of vehicles have begun gathering at petrol stations to fill up after BP said it had to close some of its outlets due to the driver shortages.

Some Shell  stations have also reported pumps running dry while ExxonMobil’s Esso has also said a small number of its 200 Tesco Alliance retail sites had also been impacted in some way.

EG Group, which runs hundreds of forecourts across Britain, said on Friday it would impose a purchase limit of 30 pounds ($41) per customer for fuel due to the “unprecedented customer demand”.

“We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages,” the Downing Street spokeswoman said.

“But like countries around the world we are suffering from a temporary COVID-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country.”

The fuel issue comes as Britain, the world’s fifth-largest economy, also grapples with a spike in European natural gas prices causing soaring energy prices and a potential food supply crunch.

Other countries such as the United States and Germany are also dealing with truck driver shortages.

Britain says the long-term solution is for more British drivers to be hired, with the RHA saying better pay and conditions are needed to attract people into the industry.

But the retail industry has warned that unless the government acts to address the shortage in the next 10 days, then significant disruption is inevitable in the run-up to Christmas.

  • Reuters