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Brexit to Blame: Germany's Olaf Scholz Says 'End to Freedom of Movement' Fueled UK Petrol Crisis

© REUTERS / PETER CZIBORRAVehicles queue up to enter the BP petrol station, in Harpenden, Britain, September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra
Vehicles queue up to enter the BP petrol station, in Harpenden, Britain, September 24, 2021.  REUTERS/Peter Cziborra - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.09.2021
Government ministers and oil companies continue to stress that there is no petrol shortage in the UK, but rather a shortfall of lorry drivers. They have blamed the fuel crisis at the point of sale on "temporary spikes in customer demand", as motorists continue to form queues at petrol stations across the country in a frenzy of panic buying.
Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor candidate to take over from outgoing Angela Merkel, has blamed post-Brexit fallout, such as the decision to end freedom of movement with Europe, for Britain’s current petrol crisis.
Long queues have been forming at petrol stations across the UK in recent days amid a frenzy of panic buying. The government and oil companies have insisted there is no shortage, faulting the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver shortfall for pressures at petrol stations and the spike in customer demand.
“The free movement of labour is part of the European Union, and we worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the union,” said the politician representing the Social Democratic Party (SPD) when answering a reporter’s question in English.
Scholz, who secured a narrow election victory in the German parliamentary elections that took place on Sunday, outperforming Merkel's ruling CDU/CSU bloc by 1.6 percentage points, said he hoped UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be able to deal with the consequences of his country’s exit from the European bloc.
“Now they decided different, and I hope that they will manage the problems coming from that, because I think it is constantly an important idea for all of us to make it happen that there will be good relations between the EU and the UK, but this is a problem to be solved.”
The current German Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor, who is now seeking to form a coalition government, suggested the British government might need to consider levels of pay and conditions of employment in the trucking industry.
“It might have something to do with the question of wages… If you understand that being a trucker is really something which many people like to be and you don’t find enough, this has something to do with working conditions and this is something that has to be thought about,” said Olaf Scholz.
Germany, like a number of other EU member states, is no stranger to HGV driver shortages. However, companies in the European bloc are able to rely on nationals from their neighbor-states to remedy the shortfalls and dodge panic-buying at petrol station forecourts like the UK has witnessed of late.

‘Bad Brexit Deal’

Anna Soubry, a former Tory business minister, was cited by The Guardian as agreeing with Scholz.
“It’s like something happened to our country and no one is allowed to speak truth to the power of Boris Johnson and his Brexit. We are now facing up to the reality of Brexit. We have got shortages. We are going to have inflation and we are not going to be the country we were before we took this decision,” she said.
Shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, also blamed a bad Brexit deal for the fallout.
“This is their [the government’s] deal: this is the consequences…We exited the customs union … hauliers now pay tariffs to come into the country … the incentives to be here aren’t there in the same way,” said Lammy.
Dismissing the claims that Brexit was to blame for the crisis, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Europe’s driver shortage was no more evident than Britain’s.

UK Petrol Crisis

On Monday pump prices for fuel in Britain soared to their highest level in eight years amid the petrol crisis. The average price of a litre of petrol rose from 135.9p on Friday to 136.6p on Sunday as forecourts ran dry.
© REUTERS / TOBY MELVILLEA BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in south London, Britain
A BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in south London, Britain - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.09.2021
A BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in south London, Britain
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said on Monday that as many as two-thirds of its nearly 5,500 independent outlets were now out of fuel. Others, warned the PRA, were "partly dry and running out soon". PRA chairman Brian Madderson blamed "panic buying, pure and simple" for the current situation.
The same stance was echoed by UK government ministers and oil companies, such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Greenergy. The latter pointed to "temporary spikes in customer demand - not a national shortage of fuel".
"There isn't a shortage. The most important thing is that people just buy petrol as they normally would. This would have been entirely manageable had we not seen lots of media coverage around the fact there were shortages - and then a public reaction to that," said Environment Secretary George Eustice on Monday.
The primary cause of the current petrol crisis is a shortage of qualified lorry drivers. Panic had been triggered by oil firm BP’s announcement last week that it would have to "temporarily" close several petrol stations because of a shortage of truckers. The shortfall is currently estimated at around 100,000 drivers in the UK.
After Brexit, many European drivers went back to their home countries because of the additional border bureaucracy. The COVID-19 pandemic also wrought changes, forcing more foreign drivers to leave the UK. To compound the problem, while some older drivers have retired, they have not been replaced because of a reported backlog in HGV driver tests due to the pandemic.

Army ‘On Standby’

People across the UK have continued to queue at fuel stations in spite of warnings they were making the situation worse. While stopping short of immediately deploying troops to drive lorries, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the army to remain on standby.
"Limited number of military tanker drivers to be put on a state of readiness and deployed if necessary to further stabilise fuel supply chain," read a statement issued on Monday by the energy ministry Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
According to Downing Street, army drivers would be ready to help deliver petrol and diesel to forecourts on a short-term basis.
© REUTERS / PETER CZIBORRAVehicles queue to refill outside a Shell fuel station in Redbourn, Britain, September 25, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra
Vehicles queue to refill outside a Shell fuel station in Redbourn, Britain, September 25, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.09.2021
Vehicles queue to refill outside a Shell fuel station in Redbourn, Britain, September 25, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra
Cabinet ministers had assembled on Monday to consider measures to remedy the situation amid calls to provide ambulance drivers, healthcare staff and other essential workers priority access to fuel. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng underscored it was right for the UK government to take “sensible, precautionary steps”.
“The UK continues to have strong supplies of fuel. However, we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease these as a matter of priority. If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel,” said Kwarteng.
Among other emergency measures, government ministers also extended specific HGV licences, the competition law between oil firms is to be temporarily suspended, and temporary visas will be offered to 5,000 foreign fuel tanker and food lorry drivers in the run-up to Christmas. A joint statement from the fuel industry, released by the government, said companies expect the situation to ease in the coming days.
Oil companies said there was “plenty of fuel at UK refineries and terminals, and as an industry we are working closely with the government to help ensure fuel is available to be delivered to stations across the country”.
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