The British government has "no plans at the moment" to use soldiers to drive petrol tankers amid continuing shortages at filling stations, the Environment Secretary has said.

George Eustice said there was not a shortage of fuel and called on motorists to stop "panic-buying" petrol and return to their normal pattern of purchasing.

The fuel supply issues have been caused by a lack of HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers.

His comments came amid reports Prime Minister Boris Johnson was considering sending in troops to deliver fuel to petrol stations following days of long queues at the pumps.

Queues at an Esso service station in Sheffield

Mr Eustice said: "We are bringing Ministry of Defence (MoD) trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there's definitely a role there for the MoD.

"In terms of other things we've no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the Army on standby - but we're not jumping to that necessarily at the moment."

Industry leaders have warned drafting in soldiers will not on its own end the shortages on forecourts.

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Emergency measures were triggered yesterday evening, with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng choosing to suspend competition laws for the fuel industry to allow suppliers to target filling stations running low.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had refused to rule out requesting military assistance, having already backed down over his reluctance to import foreign labour to solve the HGV driver shortage by creating 5,000 three-month visas to bring in extra hauliers to address delivery pressures.

However, the Federation of European Drivers Unions (FVB) has said that the UK plan to offer temporary employment and visas to attract truck drivers is "unrealistic" and "based on panic".

Edwin Atema, the head of research and investigation at the FVB told RTÉ's News at One that many drivers have left the industry due to poor working conditions in the UK.

"It's too little, too late and [the UK] need to do more to attract workers from the Continent to work in the UK on a massive scale," he said.

Fuel pumps out of use at a Shell station in Warwick

Mr Atema said the temporary deal on offer from the UK is unlikely to move drivers to quit an EU job.

The minister told the BBC the move would fix the "100 to 200" fuel tanker driver shortfall, as he urged motorists to be "sensible" and only fill up when needed to help alleviate the queues.

Long waits at filling stations saw police called to a scuffle at a north London forecourt as motorists continued their panic buying which was sparked after concerns from BP were leaked to the media that the lorry driver shortage could impact its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries.

BP said that nearly one third of its British petrol stations had run out of the two main grades of fuel.

The surge in demand led the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) to warn that as many as two thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were out of fuel yesterday, with the rest of them "partly dry and running out soon".

Worry over depleted stocks led the Business Secretary to act following a meeting with oil companies and retailers yesterday.

Mr Kwarteng opted to temporarily exempt the industry from the Competition Act to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

Invoking what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol, Mr Kwarteng said: "While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

"This is why we will enact the protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised."


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In a separate joint statement from the likes of Shell, ExxonMobile and Greenergy, the industry reiterated that the pressures on supply were being caused by "temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel".

PRA chairman Brian Madderson - who described the purchasing rate as "frenzied" - told the BBC the forecourt closures and depleted pumps were down to "panic buying, pure and simple".

He said oil companies were giving refill priority to motorway service stations, with one such stop-off point reporting a 500% spike in demand compared to last week as road users flock to fill up their tanks.

As part of UK government efforts to relieve wider supply chain pressures, 5,500 foreign worker visas will also be made available to the poultry sector as it strives to ensure a healthy array of turkeys are available for Christmas dinners.

But retailers warned that the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain issues was "too little, too late" to keep shop shelves fully stocked this December.

British Retail Consortium director Andrew Opie said the truck driver shortage meant "we won't be able to get all the products on to the shelves that we would have liked to."

Mr Shapps said visas were "only one element" of the government's relief plan, as he admitted efforts to rebuild the domestic freight workforce could take years.

The package of measures involves ambitions to train 4,000 more lorry drivers, while the Army have been drafted in to provide extra HGV driving tests to reduce the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Nearly one million letters will also be landing on the doormats of people with HGV licences in the coming days enticing them to return to the job now that wages have risen.

UK problems show Brexit was 'intellectual fraud' - France

French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune said the fuel issues faced by Britain reflected the "intellectual fraud" that was Brexit.

"Every day, we see the intellectual fraud that was Brexit," Mr Beaune told France 2 television.