Fuel Crisis: Temporary visas for foreign drivers extended in U-turn

The three month offer was savaged by foreign drivers who said they would not leave stable jobs to ‘pee in a bottle on the M25’ (Picture: Getty)

Boris Johnson has extended an emergency visa scheme to help abate labour shortages that are threatening to ruin Christmas.

In a dramatic U-turn, the government said temporary visas for nearly 5,000 foreign drivers will run until the end of February instead of expire on December 24 as originally planned.

The short duration of the offer drew widespread criticism, with European truckers saying they won’t leave stable jobs abroad to ‘pee in a bottle on the M25’.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted today that the government faces a competitive battle with EU countries to attract more lorry drivers, claiming the shortage is an ‘international problem’.

But he said he was ‘confident’ the extended scheme would encourage a bigger take-up.

Under the plan, 300 fuel drivers will be able to come to the UK from overseas ‘immediately’ and stay until March. Some 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food truck drivers will last from late October to the end of February.

The move is a major change in policy after ministers previously insisted they would not relax immigration rules in response to the crisis.

An estimated shortage of around 100,000 drivers has sown chaos throughout British supply chains, in everything from food to fuel.

In recent months, Nando’s ran dry of chicken while McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes. Supermarket shelves have also looked barren, and fears have grown that they will not be stocked as usual in the run-up to Christmas.

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The military has been drafted in to help with a fuel crisis sparked by a HGV fuel driver shortage (Picture: Getty)

In an attempt to stave off a shortage of Christmas turkeys, the government also announced that a total of 5,500 foreign poultry workers will be allowed into the UK from late October and to stay until the end of the year.

But one union leader has warned that foreign workers won’t be rushing to ‘help the UK out of the sh*it it created’.

The Tories have been keen to downplay talk that labour shortages are a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

But tens of thousands of EU citizens left the UK after Brexit, with many saying they no longer felt welcome after the referendum.

Covid has exacerbated the problem, prompting more foreign workers to return to their home countries and be closer to their families amid border closures.

The proportion of people retiring early has also shot up since the pandemic began, with the haulage industry particularly affected by this.

Lockdowns also led to difficulties in training and testing new domestic drivers to replace those who left.

Relatively low pay, changes in the way truck drivers’ incomes are taxed and a paucity of facilities such as toilets and showers mean that less people are applying for the job.

The government has said that the visas will not be a long-term solution and it wants to see employers make investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour.

It comes after more than a week of chaos at petrol stations, with pumps across the country running dry due to a lack of fuel deliveries.

The fuel shortage has sparked a panic buying frenzy (Picture: Reuters)

Huge queues have piled up at petrol stations, prices have shot up and fights have broken out amid a panic buying frenzy.

In another move intended to ease the pressure, the army is being deployed to deliver fuel to garages from Monday.

The government has publicly insisted the situation is stabilising, though privately insiders are branding it an ‘effing nightmare’ – a reference to problems shortages have caused with energy, fuel and food.

Even if the fuel shortage is resolved with the help of the army, ministers expect problems in other areas to continue in the months ahead. 

A massive increase in the wholesale cost of gas has prompted a handful of energy firms to collapse, with consumers facing skyrocketing bills this winter.

Opposition parties are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recall parliament next week to address the wider situation of labor shortages and disruptions to supply chains.

The government has been accused of ‘gas-lighting’ the nation over the scale of the crisis.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said last night that fuel demand is stabilising.

However, the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent filling stations, warned that fuel supplies remain a problem and could be getting worse in places.

‘In London and the southeast, and possibly parts of eastern England, if anything, it had got worse,’ the group’s chairman, Brian Madderson, told BBC radio.

Madderson welcomed the deployment of military drivers next week but warned it would have a limited impact.

‘This isn’t going to be the major panacea,’ he said.

‘It’s a large help, but in terms of the volume, they are not going to be able to carry that much.’

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