Demand for petrol should return to normal levels in “the coming days”, the fuel industry has said as ministers again appealed to motorists to stop “panic buying”.
In a joint statement, leading suppliers, including BP, Esso and Shell, said that with many cars now carrying more petrol than usual, pressure on filling stations should start to ease.
Earlier Boris Johnson drew back from implementing plans to send in troops to deliver fuel to the forecourts as Downing Street insisted there were “ample” supplies.
In their joint statement, issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the industry urged drivers to return to normal buying patterns.
“There is plenty of fuel at UK refineries and terminals, and as an industry we are working closely with the Government to help ensure fuel is available to be delivered to stations across the country,” it said.
“As many cars are now holding more fuel than usual, we expect that demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, easing pressures on fuel station forecourts.
“We would encourage everyone to buy fuel as they usually would.”
The appeal came after many filling stations ran dry after drivers made a dash for the pumps amid fears a shortage of tanker drivers would hit supplies.
Mr Johnson was reported to be considering activating Operation Escalin, originally drawn up to deal with the aftermath of Brexit, to use troops to drive tankers.
However the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there were currently no plans to use the military, beyond assisting with the drive to reduce the backlog of HGV tests.
“Obviously we will continue to look at all options and make sure preparatory steps are taken across government should further measures be needed,” the spokesman said.
“We are not currently bringing in the military to drive tankers.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice meanwhile blamed motorists for filling up when they did not need to after days of lengthy queues at petrol stations.
“There isn’t a shortage (of fuel). The cause of these current problems is that panic-buying episode and the most important thing is for people to start buying petrol as they normally would,” he said.
“There does come a point, as we saw during a previous episode of panic buying during the pandemic on food, where things settle down and people get used to it, and return to life as normal again.
“The sooner people do that the better.
“The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol when they don’t need to.”
Despite the reassurances, doctors’ leaders urged ministers to to give healthcare staff priority access to fuel.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of council at the British Medical Association (BMA), said essential services could be hit if staff could not get to work because they were unable to fill up.
“Everyone will have their own reasons for needing to fill up, but as pumps run dry there is a real risk that NHS staff won’t be able to do their jobs and provide vital services and care to people who urgently need it,” he said.
“Healthcare and essential workers must therefore be given priority access to fuel so they can continue their crucial work and guarantee care to patients.”
Surrey County Council’s Conservative leader Tim Oliver told the PA news agency that the local resilience forum, which includes the local NHS and police, will consider on Monday evening whether to declare a major incident.
“We have been experiencing the same problems as everyone else so we are deciding whether or not to declare a major incident which would give the forum powers to prioritise key workers,” he said.
For Labour, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the problems in the haulage industry had been building for months but ministers had simply ignored the warnings.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Since last year I have been meeting and talking with the Road Haulage Association and hauliers about some of the problems coming down the line.
“The Government ignored those problems, which is why we are now facing the situation where people go to the supermarkets and see shortages of goods on the shelves, and why they are queuing up at petrol stations and not being able to fill up their tank.
“That is not acceptable, this is an out-of-touch and complacent Government.”
In an attempt to alleviate the crisis, Mr Johnson announced at the weekend plans to issue 5,000 temporary three-month visas to foreign drivers.
However Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents hauliers across the EU, poured scorn on the idea that it would tempt enough drivers back to the UK following Brexit.
“On the short-term I think that will be a dead end,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“So more is needed, and I think the EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help UK out of the shit they created themselves.”