Europeans blame UK's fuel crisis on Brexit: 'It lies squarely with them'

·4 min read
Out of use fuel pumps at a BP petrol station in Birmingham. Picture date: Tuesday September 28, 2021.
Out-of-use fuel pumps at a BP petrol station in Birmingham on Tuesday. (PA)

As the UK struggles to contain the petrol crisis, senior Europeans have made no bones about the fact that they believe Brexit is partly to blame.

The government has put the army on standby to help ease the situation, which has seen long queues of cars at filling stations and pump closures for four days as a result of a shortage of HGV delivery drivers.

There is an estimated shortage of more than 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK, with many Europeans returning to their home countries or moving elsewhere after Brexit because new bureaucracy affected their incomes.

Read more: Panic-buyers 'using social media to track down petrol deliveries'

More returned home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, while older drivers who retired have not been replaced because of a backlog in HGV testing caused by COVID.

While the government has largely blamed the shortage at filling stations on panic-buying and coronavirus, opposition politicians and those further afield say Brexit is the contributing factor.

On Tuesday, Labour’s shadow home secretary said the fuel shortage at petrol stations is down to the government.

Nick Thomas-Symonds told Times Radio: “It is to do with the government’s complete and utter incompetence.

“It is to do with the government’s handling of Brexit and it is to do with the government’s failure to plan over recent months. 

“The blame lies squarely with them, it lies with no-one else.”

Watch: Fuel crisis a 'direct consequence' of Brexit, says Barnier

The view is shared by many senior European politicians. Former chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday that the fuel shortage at pumps is a “direct consequence” of Brexit.

Barnier, who is running for the French presidency, told a virtual event at the London School of Economics that the UK’s decision to leave the EU had led to a shortage of lorry drivers, The Independent reported.

“Part of the answer is linked, effectively, to the consequences of the Brexit because the UK chose to end the freedom of movement,” he said.

“And there is a clear link to the truck drivers.

“In addition to the freedom of movement, the UK choosing to leave the single market – that means that the UK decided to rebuild, for the very first time, non-tariff barriers between the EU and the UK. It is a direct and mechanical consequence of Brexit.”

France’s European affairs minister Clement Beaune also blamed Britain’s fuel crisis on its departure from the EU.

"Every day, we see the intellectual fraud that was Brexit," he told France 2 Television.

Olaf Scholz, the favourite to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, also hinted that the HGV driver shortage was down to Brexit.

“The free movement of labour is part of the European Union,” he told reporters following Germany’s inconclusive elections.

Read more: Self-employed electrician slams petrol ’panic-buying idiots'

“We worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the union.

“Now they decided different and I hope they will manage the problems coming from that.”

The UK government announced at the weekend that it plans to issue 5,000 temporary three-month visas to foreign drivers to help alleviate the shortage, but the move has been criticised.

Edwin Atema, from the Dutch FNV union, which represents hauliers across the EU, said the plan would not tempt enough drivers back to the UK following Brexit.

“On the short-term I think that will be a dead end,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Drivers queue for fuel at an Esso petrol station in Birmingham. Picture date: Tuesday September 28, 2021.
Drivers queue for fuel at an Esso petrol station in Birmingham on Tuesday. (PA)

“So more is needed, and I think the EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help UK out of the s*** they created themselves.”

But former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith dismissed the idea that Brexit was to blame.

He wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday: “This is simply untrue. This is a European-wide issue and the culprit is coronavirus.”

Environment secretary George Eustice has also laid the blame on the pandemic.

But on Tuesday, transport secretary Grant Shapps conceded that Brexit has been a “factor” in the current fuel crisis.

He insisted the primary cause of the shortages had been the cancellation of HGV driver testing last year due to the pandemic.

However, he added: “Brexit I hear mentioned a lot and it no doubt will have been a factor. On the other hand, it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly. So, it has actually worked in both ways.”

Watch: Fuel crisis caused by COVID, not Brexit, says minister

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