Boris Johnson has urged people not to panic buy after BP was forced to ration fuel deliveries and ministers considered contingency plans to put soldiers on standby to drive petrol tankers.
BP is restricting deliveries to dozens of petrol stations because of a shortage of lorry drivers. At least 50 of the oil giant’s 1,200 service stations around Britain are understood to be missing at least one grade of fuel and several have temporarily closed while the company prioritises motorway sites.
Britain has no shortage of petrol or diesel, but Hoyer, BP’s contractor, is struggling to get enough drivers to transport it to forecourts.
Hanna Hofer, BP’s head of UK retail, told a government meeting last week that the situation was “bad, very bad”. It said she had warned that BP had “two thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations” and the level was declining rapidly. Fuel shortages have also affected a small number of forecourts operated by Tesco and Esso.
It is also understood that ministers have discussed putting soldiers on standby to drive petrol tankers. The contingency plans, known as Operation Escalin, would be enacted only if the situation deteriorated significantly.
Johnson is also facing a cabinet split over plans to allow companies to use more foreign lorry drivers. George Eustice, the environment secretary, is pushing for lorry drivers to be put on the “shortage occupation list” to allow more to enter the country. The Cabinet Office is said to have taken a similar view. However, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has said that companies need to pay drivers more.