LONDON -- Thousands of British gas stations ran dry Sunday, an industry group said, as motorists scrambled to fill up amid a supply disruption due to a shortage of truck drivers.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had sold out their fuel, with the rest “partly dry and running out soon.”
Association chairman Brian Madderson said the shortages were the result of “panic buying, pure and simple.”
“There is plenty of fuel in this country, but it is in the wrong place for the motorists,” he told the BBC. “It is still in the terminals and the refineries.”
Long lines of vehicles formed at many gas stations over the weekend, and tempers frayed as some drivers waited for hours. Police were called to one London gas station Sunday after a scuffle broke out. Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of assault.
The haulage industry says the U.K. is short tens of thousands of truckers, due to a perfect storm of factors including the coronavirus pandemic, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain’s Brexit departure from the European Union last year.
Several countries, including the United States and Germany, also are experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. The problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps.
After weeks of mounting pressure, the U.K.'s Conservative government announced Saturday that it will issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkey or toys for many British families. The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers starting in October, and another 5,500 for poultry workers.
Industry groups welcomed the new visa plan, although the British Retail Consortium said it was “too little, too late.”
Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.”