The UK transport secretary has defended his foreign visa plans to solve the HGV driver shortage as he accused a haulage group of sparking petrol station queues.
Grant Shapps said the queues and closures at fuel stations were a “manufactured situation” created by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) leaking comments from BP bosses about supply concerns.
The UK Government announced a temporary visa scheme that will see 5000 HGV drivers and 5500 poultry workers brought in on three-month contracts to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and tackle fuel delivery difficulties.
Shapps admitted he had done something he “didn’t necessarily want to do” in allowing foreign workers to fill the workforce gaps, having only on Friday rallied against the idea of temporary visas, but said the Government wanted to reassure the public amid long queues at the pumps.
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme, Shapps said: “We need to ensure that people are reassured now that this rather manufactured situation has been created, because there’s enough petrol in the country.”
Asked who manufactured the situation, he said: “There was a meeting which took place about 10 days ago, a private meeting in which one of the haulage associations decided to leak the details to media, and that has created, as we have seen, quite a large degree of concern as people naturally react to those things.”
He later told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show the briefings were “irresponsible”.
The Cabinet minister called for the public to be “sensible” and only fill up their cars when needed as there is “plenty of fuel” available.
Although Shapps did not name the RHA in his broadcast round on Sunday, the Mail on Sunday (MoS) quoted a Government source stating the Road Haulage Association was “entirely responsible for this panic and chaos”.
But Rod McKenzie, of the RHA, told the PA news agency: “The allegation against me is nonsense.
“I was not in the meeting. I was not briefed about the meeting afterwards. I certainly didn’t brief any journalists about the meeting about which I knew nothing.
“It is entirely without foundation.”
Meanwhile, Shapps told the MoS that Brexit was a “relatively minor contributor” to the shortage of truck drivers in the UK, despite the RHA estimating that Britain’s divorce from the European Union led to an exodus of 20,000 hauliers.
Pointing to shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic elsewhere in Europe, the transport secretary told the BBC he was confident his offer of 5000 visas would ease the “100 to 200” shortfall of fuel tanker drivers, as he predicted the pump queues would start to “resolve” themselves partly due to the difficulty in stockpiling petrol.
But the boss of the European Road Haulers Association, which represents more than two-thirds of trucking companies across the EU, said he did not think the offer would send drivers flocking back to Britain.
General secretary Marco Digioia, who called Brexit the “number one” reason for UK sector vacancies, told the i newspaper: “Until the UK offers the same pay and working conditions as drivers have in the EU then many will stay away.”