▶ Watch Video: Panic buying leads to U.K. fuel shortage

London — A shortage of truck drivers in Britain has led to a national fuel crisis that is causing long lines at gas stations across the country, with many pumps running dry.

“As soon as a tanker arrives at a filling station, people on social media are advising that a tanker has arrived and then it is like bees to a honey pot,” Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told Britain’s Times Newspaper.

“Everyone flocks there and . . . within a few hours it is out again,” he said.

The government put part of the blame for fuel crisis on panic buying. Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged people not to purchase more fuel than they usually would, amid reports of some filling up water bottles at their local gas stations. And there were reports of fights breaking out at some pumps, with one video on social media showing a man waiting on line for gas brandishing a knife.

“The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal,” Shapps told Sky News.

Brexit, trucks and fuel

A big reason for the crisis is a shortage of truck drivers.

When the U.K. left the European Union, it became harder for many foreign workers, including truck drivers, to work in Britain. Then, the coronavirus pandemic caused delays that left a backlog of license applications.

All of this has led to fewer drivers to transport goods and subsequent chaos in supply chains, according to CBS News’ Holly Williams. An association that represents 65% of fuel retailers in Britain said its members had reported that between 50% and 90% of their pumps had run dry, according to the Reuters news agency.

On Sunday, the government announced a plan to issue 5,000 temporary visas to foreign truck drivers to fill the gap until new ones can be trained under a free government program. The temporary visas will last until December 24th.

But experts say the shortfall in drivers is closer to 100,000 than 5,000, Williams reports, and the government measures may not be enough to prevent continued shortages into winter.

“It will take many months before there are enough new British drivers to cover the shortfall,” Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, told Reuters.

“Why would you want to go to Britain?”

Critics argue that the temporary government visas are not attractive to truck drivers, who have specialist training and can often find jobs in other European countries where they benefit from the freedom of movement allowed in the European Union.

“Why would you want to go to Britain, jump all these hoops, face all this hostile environment, if you could go to Ireland or Holland and earn more, be respected, drive on nicer motorways with nice truck stops, and be a free European citizen, not a second-class citizen?” Tomasz Orynski, a Polish truck driver and journalist, told the Financial Times.

“To think migrants are like a tap with water, which you can open and close when you need it, is just insolence,” another Polish truck driver told BBC News. “You’ve even got these posters everywhere saying: ‘A dog is for life, not for Xmas.’ And this is how you treat your drivers. You just want them to come to your rescue and then bugger off when you no longer need them.”

On Monday, the government put dozens of British troops on standby to help with fuel transport if necessary.

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