UK runs out of fuel, truck drivers over Brexit and COVID-19 pandemic



UK energy companies are rationing gasoline supplies and shutting down some fuel pumps, the latest in a series of shortages that have seen fast food giants cut menu options and gaps appear on supermarket shelves.

A major factor behind the problems is the lack of truck drivers.

The UK is running out of tens of thousands of long-distance drivers as factors such as Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic converge to create a tight supply chain.

Authorities urged motorists not to panic to buy gasoline after BP and Esso closed a handful of stations because there were not enough trucks to get gasoline to pumps.

“The advice would be to continue as usual,” Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday.

Despite the call, lines of cars formed at some petrol stations across the UK as drivers refueled, just in case.

As concerns about disruption increase, the transport industry is pressuring the government to relax immigration rules and recruit more European drivers to avoid turkey and toy shortages over Christmas.

The government is resisting the move and is working to get more Britons into truck driving, long seen as underpaid and underrated work.

The wages of truck drivers in the UK have increased in line with demand.(

AP: Lewis Joly


“Driving is not seen as a sexy 21st century vocation,” said Laurence Bolton, executive director of the National Driving Center, a family-run school for truck drivers in the London suburb of Croydon.

But that is starting to change. Mr Bolton’s school has seen a 20% increase in the number of applicants since the UK’s pandemic restrictions eased earlier this year.

Bus drivers, laid-off hospitality workers and even former airline pilots are looking to retrain as truck drivers, a profession that is suddenly in demand and increasingly well paid.

“It opens up opportunities,” said Stephen Thrower, 31, who works as a van driver but trains on trucks.

As a trainee truck driver practice toppling a huge platform between orange cones on the school’s asphalt lot, Mr Bolton unveiled the ingredients that caused a trucking crisis.

Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU) – aka Brexit – has prompted some European workers to return home.

The UK government also closed a loophole that many drivers were using to reduce tax payments.

Then the COVID-19 lockdowns halted testing for months, stopping the flow of new drivers.

Countries like the United States and Germany are also facing driver shortages.

However, the UK’s problem was made worse by Brexit.

Britain’s total departure from the EU last year ended the rights of bloc citizens to live and work in the UK, making it harder for companies to employ drivers from the UK. Eastern Europe that many relied on.

The pandemic has also disrupted labor markets around the world, putting millions of people out of work, at least temporarily.

An estimated 1.4 million Europeans left Britain for their home countries during the pandemic, often to be closer to their families. We don’t know how many will come back.

The UK trucking industry is pushing for truck drivers to be added to the “shortage list”, which would make it easier to recruit European drivers.

There are similar calls from the UK agriculture and food industries, which are short of fruit pickers and meat packers.


“New normal”

The Conservative government refused, saying British workers should be trained for the jobs.

“We have continuously allowed our home market to underperform by essentially having lower wages to people willing to do the job for less, and sometimes under very poor conditions,” Shapps told politicians on Wednesday.

“And that is the larger picture that we are determined to resolve.”

A flag of the European Union flies near the British Parliament.
Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a shortage of truck drivers in the UK.(

AP: Kirsty Wigglesworth


In an attempt to alleviate the shortage, the government has extended the hours of work for drivers per week, increased testing of truck drivers and “streamlined” the training process.

A change means drivers no longer have to qualify on a rigid truck before upgrading to huge semi-trailers.

Mr Bolton generally welcomes the measures taken by the government, but is concerned about the safety of letting drivers go directly from cars to 18-wheelers.

“I don’t care if you’re the best car driver in the world – he’s 16 and a half meters long,” he said.

Mr Shapps said the situation was improving “week by week” as more and more new drivers passed their tests.

However, companies warn that the solution will not be quick or easy.

Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said the driver drought was part of a huge upheaval in labor markets and supply chains around the world.

“It’s going to get worse,” Wright said at a recent seminar hosted by the Institute for Government think tank.

“We should get used to the fact that sometimes empty shelves… are going to be the new normal.”

For trainee truck drivers, this is good news. Salaries are on the rise and some companies are offering free training, signing bonuses and other incentives.

A driver for a large supermarket can earn up to 50,000 pounds ($ 94,000) a year, more than many teachers, police officers, or even lawyers.

“It’s absolutely a market for drivers right now,” Mr. Bolton said.




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