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Brexit, COVID-19 and aging workforce: How the U.K. ended up in a fuel and food shortage

Brexit, COVID-19 and aging workforce: How the U.K. ended up in a fuel and food shortage
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Lines of cars formed at some British gas stations for a fourth day on Monday, as the government mulled sending in the army to help ease supply disruption triggered by a shortage of truck drivers.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel to drive tankers, though the government has not announced whether troops will be deployed.

The association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said Sunday that about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had run out of fuel, as the driver shortage set off a round of petrol panic-buying.

Roland McKibbin, a self-employed electrician in London, said he had had to cancel jobs because he couldn’t get gas.

“I rely on fuel to travel to jobs, no fuel means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get to jobs with my tools,” he said. “So, basically, the panic-buying idiots have lost me income, and directly taken food off the table for my wife and 5-year-old son, because I can’t wire people’s houses from home, unfortunately.”

The haulage industry says the U.K. is short as many as 100,000 truckers, due to a perfect storm of factors including the coronavirus pandemic, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain’s departure from the European Union last year. Post- Brexit immigration rules mean EU citizens can no longer live and work visa-free in Britain, as they could when the U.K. was a member of the bloc.

Several countries, including the United States and Germany, also are experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. But the problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps.

The government says panic buying is worsening the petrol supply problem, and urged people not to hoard fuel. On Sunday, it announced it is temporarily suspending competition laws so fuel firms can share information and target areas where supply is running low.
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