George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said the only reason there is a petrol stations fuel shortage right now is because thousands are panic-buying ‘when they don’t need it’
A top Tory today demanded Brits stop panic-buying fuel ‘when they don’t need it’ as he insisted ‘there isn’t a shortage’.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said there was ‘plenty of petrol’ and chaos on forecourts had been fuelled by panic-buying, not a lack of supply.
It comes as soldiers could be called onto petrol forecourts within days as Boris Johnson ’s team hold crisis talks about the nation’s fuel supply.
Panic buying has stripped filling stations dry in some areas after being sparked by leaked concerns about the shortage of HGV drivers.
Last night ministers suspended competition laws which normally stop fuel suppliers talking to each other.
The Downstream Oil Protocol temporarily exempts the industry from the 1988 Competition Act – allowing them to share information about supplies.
Now Boris Johnson is said to be considering triggering Operation Escalin, in which soldiers would drive oil tankers to ensure supply is maintained.
But with sources telling the Mirror Escalin would take at least a week to scale up, Mr Eustice said: “We’ve no plans at the moment to bring in the army to actually do driving.”
Ministers met yesterday to discuss the fuel crisis, there are further official-led meetings throughout today and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay will lead a ministerial meeting this afternoon.
Downing Street urged Brits to “only fill their tanks when they need to” in order to “avoid the queues forming that we are seeing in some parts of the country”.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We have ample fuel stocks in this country – the public should continue to be reassured there are no shortages.”
He did not rule out bringing in the Army to drive tankers in future, though he emphasised “currently the military involvement is specifically around testing”.
He said “we are not currently bringing in the military to drive tankers”, but the government is taking “preparatory steps necessary, should any further measures be needed.”
In an appeal to the nation, Mr Eustice told broadcasters: “We have plenty of petrol, both in refineries – output is at normal levels – and in stores.
“The most important thing is that people just buy petrol as they normally would. There isn’t a shortage.
“There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts but actually that’s quite limited in the petrol sector.
“The cause of these current problems is a panic-buying episode and the most important thing is for people to start buying petrol as they normally would.”
He added: “People have a tendency to be anxious at these times, many of them will have filled their car up.
“There does come a time when things settle down, people get used to it and return to life as normal again. The quicker people do that the better.
“There is no shortage of petrol – plenty of petrol in both our refineries and in storage.
“The only reason we don’t have petrol on forecourts is that people are buying petrol when they don’t need it.”
The Guardian suggested the Prime Minister will meet senior members of his Cabinet today to consider triggering the military operation.
It’s understood there is no formal Cabinet meeting but regular meetings have been taking place across Whitehall over the last week and will continue.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chairman Brian Madderson confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.
But he warned it was not an “absolute panacea” and that there was no “single lever” the Government and the industry could pull to resolve the crisis.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan told Times Radio: “We’ve got to get the army in as soon as possible. The reality is the army has the logistics experience and the experience to come in as soon as possible.”
He also suggested petrol stations be “petrol stations were reserved for those key workers that need it” in the short term.
But one source familiar with Operation Escalin told the Mirror it would take at least a week to scale up, with a base case of two weeks.
Describing the operation as a last resort, the source said: “It could be about a week in an extreme scenario.
“It’s not just getting some Army lad into a fuel tanker to drive it… there is some very bespoke training that needs to be done to do the deliveries.”
Mr Madderson said it was not just a question of moving supplies to the filling stations – as drivers had to load up their tanks at the gantry at the terminal, which was a skilled job.
“There has been training going on in the background for military personnel,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But that’s perhaps just confined to moving the tanker by articulated truck from point A to point B.
“One of the difficulties is loading, and the tanker drivers currently load their own tanks at the gantry at the terminals, and then most are providing the delivery to the forecourt.”
“This is a skilled job and we will be working with Government and industry to see how we can best move it forward.”