The crisis threatening public confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government stems from concerns that the lack of tanker drivers could affect supplies at the pump

Desperate British motorists were on Tuesday warned not to fill up plastic water bottles with fuel, as the government faced pressure to give key workers priority at the pumps, after panic-buying left forecourt stocks empty across the country.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said drivers seen using old bottles with petrol was “dangerous and extremely unhelpful,” after five days of long queues at filling stations causing traffic gridlock and frayed tempers.

London taxi driver Divyesh Ruparelia, 58, said he was unable to find any fuel at all on Monday, even as Shapps said stocks were being delivered to outlets again. 

“Today, if it’s anything like on Tuesday, then I will run out of fuel,” he told AFP, blaming Brexit and the coronavirus for causing lorry and tanker driver shortages.

Paramedic Jennifer Ward, 21, said she had to try five different garages in Norfolk, eastern England, before she could fill up her ambulance.

“We work a stressful job and we don’t need any added anxiety,” she told the Daily Mail.

The crisis threatening public confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government stems from concerns that the lack of tanker drivers could affect supplies at the pump.

Johnson on Monday night put the army on standby to drive tankers from refineries, although Shapps said there were “tentative signs of stabilization.”

He blamed the public for panic-buying and the pandemic for the original driver shortage, which prevented 30,000 heavy goods vehicle operators being tested.

“Once we all return to our normal buying habits… the quicker we can get back to normality,” he told Sky News, predicting that queues would ease in the days to come.

The chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, Brian Madderson, said demand was “well above the norm” but members were seeing the first signs of improvement.

Nevertheless, healthcare bodies, including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, said “urgent action” was still required, as healthcare staff were increasingly unable to travel.

“We can’t be waiting in queues for two or three hours for petrol or diesel when we have patients to see,” BMA deputy chairman David Wrigley told Times Radio.

Britain’s biggest public sector workers’ union, Unison, called for the government to trigger emergency powers, as some local authorities mulled unilaterally declaring a major incident to give priority to essential staff.

‘Get a grip’

Johnson’s announcement to ready troops to intervene came after a day of repeated denials they had been put on alert, angering even normally supportive sections of the media.

The Sun said mixed messaging was hitting public confidence and accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” on fuel, as well as lacking a strategy to deal with surging numbers of migrants crossing the Channel from France.

“Is anyone actually in charge in Downing Street?” it asked in an editorial. “Get a grip on it, PM. Public patience is close to breaking point.”

Fuel shortages are now having a knock-on effect across several sectors. Dozens of non-league football matches were called off and some schools said online lessons could return, as many teachers were unable to reach their classrooms by public transport.

David Brown, chair of the National Courier and Despatch Association, told AFP his drivers were unable to commit to some longer journeys as they were “struggling to find fuel.”

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