PM refuses to rule out empty shelves at Christmas caused by HGV driver shortage

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the many pressures faced by the prime minister as the Tory party conference opens

Christmas supply chains could be impacted by the shortage of HGV drivers after Boris Johnson refused to rule out any disruption, but the prime minister insisted this year December 25 would be "considerably better" than it was in 2020.

A shortage of 100,000 Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers in the UK is currently causing supply chain issues at petrol stations, with many across the country being forced to close over a lack of fuel - but there are concerns distribution problems could soon leave supermarket shelves empty.

Asked about a warning from Rishi Sunak that driver shortages could continue to Christmas, the prime minister told the BBC that the chancellor is "invariably right in everything he says".

On the opening day of the Tory Party conference in Manchester, the PM insisted the fuel crisis is "abating" despite continuing reports of long queues for petrol in some parts of the country.

But he refused to rule out Christmas being impacted - when asked if empty supermarket shelves could be a feature of the festive period, he said: "We are going to see a period in which the global economy, particularly the UK economy because of the speed of recovery, is sucking in demand very fast."

"Where there are issues that we can help with, we will do everything we can," the PM added.

He insisted however that he would not plug job vacancies in the haulage industry with "uncontrolled immigration", amid calls to relax visa rules on foreign HGV drivers further, after the government said it would allow up to 5,000 to temporarily work in the UK.

But he did not rule out allowing more to come, saying he would keep "all options on the table" to fix the delivery difficulties being witnessed in the UK.

Pressed on whether there could be more temporary visas issued, Mr Johnson told broadcasters in east Manchester: "We'll take each step as it comes, we're there to support industries that are having difficulties.

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports from a forecourt in Bracknell, one of the places hit hardest by the petrol crisis

"But it is fundamentally up to them to work out the way ahead.

"In the end, those businesses, those industries, are the best solvers of their own supply chain issues - government can't step in and fix every bit of the supply chain.

"But what we certainly will do is keep all options on the table."

And in comments that will provide little hope to those worried about this year's festivities, Mr Johnson said he is "very confident this Christmas will be considerably better" than last.

Last year, after being told coronavirus restrictions would be temporarily lifted over Christmas, the prime minister brought in last minute measures which meant people in England were only allowed to celebrate with members of their own household and support bubbles.

It comes as military drivers prepare to take to the roads for the first time on Monday in support of the operation to keeping filling stations supplied.

Around 100 trained drivers with an additional 100 support troops are due to be deployed over the coming week, despite repeated assurances by ministers the situation is "stabilising".

Long queues for petrol continue in London and the South East Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

The Petrol Retailers Association has welcomed the move - described by the Prime Minister as a "precaution" - but warned it will have a limited impact given the relatively small numbers involved.

It urged ministers to ensure supplies are prioritised on those areas where the shortages are most acute - most notably London and the South East, which have continued to see long queues at the pumps.

In contrast, the situation in Scotland, the North of England and the Midlands is reported to be easing with supplies returning to normal.