Government will allow up to 5,000 foreign drivers into the country on short-term visas, a measure that logistics companies and retailers have demanded for months but experts estimate a shortfall of around 100,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers.
The UK government is poised to temporarily ease visa rules to attract more foreign lorry drivers, reports said, as it grapples with a growing shortage that has now hit fuel supplies.
The lack of tanker drivers has led to huge queues at petrol stations in recent days, as people ignore government pleas not to panic-buy fuel after some garages closed due to the lack of deliveries.
Up to 5,000 temporary visas could be issued under the short-term scheme, according to media reports. The UK's Road Haulage Association says Britain needs 100,000 more drivers if it is to meet demand.
The move would represent a U-turn by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government has tightened post-Brexit immigration rules and repeatedly insisted Britain's reliance on foreign labour must end.
Johnson has been under increasing pressure to act, after the pandemic and Brexit combined to worsen the haulier shortage and he faces other immediate crises including escalating energy prices.
It's hard, long term work: sorting the sleeping arrangements, showers, toilets and food that drivers get. In some European countries, these are free and of good quality. In the UK they're charged and of very poor quality.— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) September 25, 2021
As well as threatening timely fuel supplies, the lack of lorry drivers has caused disruption to deliveries of food and other goods.
As the lines of cars waiting at petrol stations have lengthened, particularly in southeast England, Johnson's office confirmed late on Friday the government was "looking at temporary measures to avoid any immediate problems".
A Downing Street spokesman said any measures would be "very strictly time limited" while reiterating the country has "ample fuel stocks" and that "there are no shortages".
However, drivers appeared less than reassured on Saturday, as queues again formed for fuel.
Mike Davey, 56, had been waiting more than half an hour to fill up at a petrol station run by the supermarket chain Tesco in Kent, southeast of London.
"I just want to get some fuel to get to work. People are just like filling up jerry cans – it's ridiculous," he told AFP.
"Maybe they need to bring some army drivers in," Davey added.
There have been calls to deploy soldiers to help deliver petrol, while some have also suggested using them to process the backlog of HGV license applications that has ballooned during the pandemic.
Today is my last off before I return to work tomorrow. The sun is shining brightly so I thought I'd head out and enjoy a ride on the 🏍 Plan scuppered. You can't get #petrol anywhere. Is the #UK unique in empty shelves, labour shortages, queues for ⛽ rocketing utility bills.... pic.twitter.com/YrptLWYJid— Eurostar George (@EurostarGeorge) September 24, 2021