A former BBC boss opposed to Brexit has been accused of triggering the petrol pump crisis.
Ministers say Rod McKenzie sparked the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking remarks made by a BP executive at a private Government meeting. Senior sources suggested he ‘weaponised’ the comments to deflect blame for the UK’s supply chaos.
Mr McKenzie, who ran BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat for more than two decades before joining the Road Haulage Association, last night denied the claim.
As managing director of policy for the RHA, he has blamed post-Brexit immigration restrictions for the crisis in the industry and has been leading calls for the Government to lift visa restrictions to allow more foreign drivers into the country.
The fuel crisis began to snowball last week after comments made by Hanna Hofer, head of BP’s retail business, at a Cabinet Office meeting were leaked. On September 16, Ms Hofer told civil servants, hauliers and other industry figures that the company had ‘two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels’.
Ministers say Rod McKenzie (pictured above) sparked the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking remarks made by a BP executive at a private Government meeting
A motorist lays out a half dozen fuel containers on the floor of the forecourt in Upminster to fill her boot with fuel while desperate drivers queue for hours behind
According to a senior Government source, however, she also said the situation had been ‘going on for weeks’ and that very few forecourts had had to close. Crucially, those additional comments – which Government insiders believe would have prevented or at least reduced the panic-buying of fuel – were not made public.
Mr McKenzie said he did not take part in the meeting and firmly denied that there was any direct evidence that he or anyone at the RHA leaked the selective remarks.
But a senior Government source said: ‘McKenzie will have been aware of Ms Hofer’s comments and had every incentive to weaponise them. The RHA leak every meeting they have with us. They have a rap sheet as long as their arm.
‘McKenzie is just a moaning Remainer and he and the RHA are entirely responsible for this panic and chaos. We will deal with them when this is over.’
BP denied that any of its staff were behind the leak, with a spokeswoman saying it ‘would have been completely counter-productive’.
BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell last night introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases after motorists were seen on forecourts filling multiple jerry cans.
Meanwhile, the Government announced up to 4,000 people will be trained as HGV drivers. Ministry of Defence examiners will be drafted in to increase capacity for those wanting to sit HGV tests, and almost a million letters will be sent to people who currently hold an HGV licence encouraging them to return to the industry.
The Department for Education is also investing up to £10 million to create new ‘boot camps’ to train 3,000 more HGV drivers at short, intensive and free courses.
An ambulance exits a Shell garage, which doesn’t have any unleaded petrol, after filling up on fuel on Saturday in London
Motorists queue to fill their cars at a Sainsbury’s fuel station in Ashford, Kent, on Saturday evening
An aerial view showing motorists queueing in Kent on Saturday. BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell last night introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases after motorists were seen on forecourts filling multiple jerry cans
In a fresh headache for the Government, however, Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port was last night locked in urgent talks to stave off financial collapse which could place further pressure on forecourts. The company, which supplies about a sixth of Britain’s road fuel but has struggled during the pandemic, wants to strike a deal with HMRC to delay £223 million in tax payments.
Ministers are said to have rejected a bailout but are watching the situation closely, according to the Sunday Times. The refinery’s owner, Essar Oil UK, described talks with HMRC as ‘positive’.
The RHA claims around 20,000 European drivers have left the UK and blames ‘the uncertainty of Brexit and future rights to live and work in the UK’ for the situation.
They say the shortage of drivers could lead to empty shelves at supermarkets and spread to other industries including waste collection and over-the-counter medicine.
Customers queuing in their cars to access an Asda petrol station in east London on Saturday
A Shell garage employee holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic that they do not have unleaded petrol
Queues at the BP petrol station in Soham, Cambridgeshire, at 8am on Saturday morning as the panic buying continued
But in an article today for The Mail on Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps describes Brexit as ‘a relatively minor contributor to a problem in the UK that is replicated in Germany and even worse in Poland’.
He argues that leaving the EU ‘has enabled me to change the law to allow more HGV testing to take place’. He also urges the public to ‘get driving for Britain’, writing: ‘Driver shortages are a pan-European problem so the situation here in the UK cannot be solved by relying for evermore on foreign labour.
‘Much of the world is witnessing post-pandemic turbulence in supply chains caused by driver shortages. In the UK in recent months this manifested itself by the occasional pump missing a particular grade of fuel – say super-unleaded for half a day. However, what we have seen over the past couple of days is panic-buying that we must ensure doesn’t turn a very limited problem into a far bigger one.’
Despite fewer than 100 of the UK’s 8,350 filling stations running out of fuel, there were sporadic scenes of violence yesterday as motorists continued to ignore pleas for them not to panic-buy. Footage from an Esso petrol forecourt near Chichester, West Sussex, showed punches and kicks being exchanged in a brawl.
AA president Edmund King, said the problem would pass in a matter of days if drivers only filled up when they needed to, because there was ‘plenty of fuel at source’.
But the Petrol Retailers’ Association warned the situation could get worse before it improves.
Asked about the crisis yesterday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘HGV drivers keep this country running. We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people launch new well-paid careers in the industry, supporting thousands to get the training they need to be road-ready.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice added: ‘We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.’