PM refuses to rule out more visas for overseas lorry drivers amid shortage

ITV News Politics Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the regional differences in petrol supplies

Boris Johnson has refused to rule out issuing more visas to overseas lorry drivers in order to tackle the UK's current supply shortages.

As vehicles continue to queue for fuel at petrol stations nationwide, the government announced up to 300 fuel tanker drivers will be allowed to work in the UK immediately on a temporary basis up until March 2022.

Temporary visas are also being offered to 4,700 more HGV drivers to help deliver food.

When asked whether he would rule out further relaxations to immigration rules, the prime minister on Saturday said the situation will be kept "under review".

"That gives us flexibility - we can open up our markets if we need to," he added.

However, Mr Johnson also said he does not want a return to "low-skilled immigration".

Although the government wants foreign drivers to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, Boris Johnson said the UK shouldn't rely on low-wage immigrant labour

"What we don’t want to do is go back to a situation in which we basically allowed the road haulage industry to be sustained with a lot of low-wage immigration that meant that wages didn’t go up and the quality of the job didn’t go up,” he said. “The weird thing is now that people don’t want to go into the road haulage industry, don’t want to be lorry drivers, precisely because you have that mass immigration approach.”

A shortage of HGV drivers to deliver fuel to garages has led to panic buying over the past week, resulting in some garages running dry at the worst points of the crisis.

The military is preparing for deployment to help with fuel deliveries from Monday.

Nearly 200 military personnel will be deployed as a temporary fix, with the government continuing to stress the problem is improving.

"The situation is stabilising but it's a problem that's been driven really by demand and not by supply," Boris Johnson said on Saturday, adding that military deployment is just a "precaution".

Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent filling stations, said although long queues and dry stations in the South East and London are still a major issue, the rest of the country has seen improving conditions.

Similar to the Prime Minister, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Saturday that military deployment was just a "precaution" and the situation was getting better,

He admitted, however, that there are still issues with drivers waiting longer than usual to refill and said his own wife had faced queues.

Has the Health Secretary been impacted by longer than usual waits for fuel?

Sajid Javid said as he has a government driver he no longer refuels himself, but said his wife had faced a wait for petrol.

"It did take a lot longer than normal," he admitted but added: "There is no shortage of fuel in the country, there hasn't been.

"There is a shortage of drivers to get that fuel to the pumps and that has been, to a large extent, alleviated. There's still more work going on to do that but people should be reassured a lot's being done to help with this but there's also absolutely enough fuel in the country for everyone".

"The government is doing everything it can but [military deployment] is certainly going to help in improving an already stabilising situation."

What is the government doing in the long-term to resolve shortages?

As well as drafting in the military to deliver fuel from Monday, ministers have also said:

  • Up to 300 fuel tanker drivers will be allowed to work in the UK immediately on a temporary basis up until March 2022.

  • Temporary visas are being offered to 4,700 more HGV drivers to help deliver food. They will arrive from late October and leave by 28 February.

  • 5,500 poultry workers will be given temporary visas too. They will arrive from late October and can stay up until the end of the year.

  • Ministers are planning new skills bootcamps to train up to 4,000 people to become HGV drivers.

  • Government has pledged to work with the logistics sector to improve HGV testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and diversity.

  • And will work with freight associations to improve lorry parking facilities.

Mr Javid on Saturday insisted the shortage of drivers that has led to supply issues has "to a large extent" been "alleviated."

He said military assistance was a "precaution" in an "already stabilising situation".

The health secretary's comments echo those of his colleague business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng who said on Friday night the situation is "slowly improving" and urged the public to "return to our normal buying habits".

The government said more fuel is now being delivered than is being sold, but said some parts of the country still face challenges.

A closed Asda petrol station near Ferring, West Sussex. Credit: PA

Brian Madderson, chair of the Petrol Retailers Association, told ITV News,"It is generally good and improving news for much of the country - Midlands, North, Scotland - but I'm afraid if anything, London and the South East is faring even worse."

The association found only 16% of stations currently have no fuel at all.

Drafting in the military comes amid continued pressure from Labour to enact emergency measures of risk a "ruined" Christmas.

Sir Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to take emergency action to resolve the lorry driver shortage he said was threatening to ruin Christmas.

The Labour Party leader said a scheme to issue 5,000 temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers would not be up and running “for weeks”.

A woman wearing a face mask passes a Christmas window display on Oxford Street, London. Credit: PA

He said the prime minister should if necessary recall Parliament to rush through legislation to ensure shelves and petrol stations are stocked.

He warned the government needed to "get on with it" to prevent problems developing in other sectors.

“I don’t want people in this country to have another Christmas ruined by this Prime Minister’s lack of planning,” he said.

Many people faced disappointment in Christmas 2020 after last minute changes to Covid rules.