UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to consider using the army to supply the country’s petrol stations running dry because of panic buying and a shortage of drivers.
Under an emergency plan expected to be considered by Johnson on Monday, hundreds of soldiers could be scrambled to deliver fuel to petrol stations.
Johnson will meet with senior members of the cabinet to scrutinize “Operation Escalin” after emergency measures were triggered on Sunday evening.
Several petrol stations have closed as their ability to transport fuel from refineries was hit by an industry-wide shortage of truck drivers, which has also paralyzed some of the country’s vital supply chains.
BP acknowledged that a third of its petrol stations had run out of the main two grades of fuel. “We are experiencing some fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades,” the company said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents nearly 5,500 independent outlets, admitted 50% to 90% of its members had reported running out. It also said that the rest would soon follow.
There are growing fears now that the UK could be heading into a second “winter of discontent” with shelves expected to be emptier than usual in the run-up to Christmas.
On Sunday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, transport secretary Grant Shapps and home secretary Priti Patel met to discuss options including Operation Escalin.
If the plan is implemented, hundreds of soldiers could be drafted in to drive a reserve fleet of 80 tankers.
However, fully implementing the plan would take up to three weeks since some of those mobilized may already be on other deployments and others could be reservists.
Late on Sunday night, Kwarteng admitted there had been “some issues with supply chains”, but insisted there was still “plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals”.
He also said that fuel companies would be temporarily excluded from the Competition Act in order for information to be shared and supply to be optimized.
Officials said the move would make it easier for firms to “share information, so that they can more easily prioritise the delivery of fuel to the parts of the country and strategic locations that are most in need”.
On Monday, Johnson and ministers will discuss the Escalin and other proposals in a bid to influence people’s behavior and put an end to the current levels of panic buying.
A source has told the Guardian that a high level of shortages will last at least another five days and could go on even longer unless people change their behavior.
“The more we seem to react to this, the more we end up driving it. But if we don’t react, it just carries on. We’re almost generating our own crisis,” the source said.