British military personnel in fatigues began delivering fuel on Tuesday to ease an acute trucker shortage that triggered panic buying at the pumps, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied the world’s fifth largest economy was heading into crisis.

Britain’s supply chains for everything from pork, petrol and poultry to medicines and milk have been strained to breaking point by shortages of labour in the wake of the Brexit and Covid-19 crises.Long lines are snaking down streets across the UK as drivers struggle to fill up their cars, causing widespread traffic misery. The government is blaming the public, urging people not to panic.

Panic buying of fuel  across major cities last week with queues of drivers stacked up. Some have had fist fights over the pumps while others hoarded fuel in old water bottles.

 At first, the shortages drew a shrug. An inconvenience for some, but hardly the stuff to shake an economy or a government. But recent news from oil giants BP and ExxonMobil that they were having to close some gas stations as a result of a truck driver shortage changed that.

The pro-Brexit Conservative government is keen to downplay talk that the truck driver shortage is a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union. However, when the country left the economic orbit of the EU at the start of this year, one of the bloc’s main tenets ceased to apply the freedom of people to move within the EU to find work.

The  British government insists there is not. That’s true, but the process of keeping the country’s gas stations flowing involves the seamless interaction of a number of activities. So when one or more aspects of the process are out of kilter, the whole system can grind to a halt. Replenishing stocks becomes even more difficult if the driver shortage remains and people persist in their changed routines.

UK PM Boris Johnson appeared on Tuesday to dial down blaming the public, acknowledging how “frustrating and infuriating” it must be to worry about shortages of fuel. He said the situation is “starting to improve” as supplies return and urged people to “go about their business in a normal way.”

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the staffing issues, prompting thousands of EU drivers to leave the U.K. The series of lockdown restrictions also led to difficulties in training and testing new home-grown drivers to replace those who left.


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