The British government has temporarily suspended parts of a competition law on Sunday evening as the country grapples with a fuel crisis caused by lorry driver shortages and panic buying.
The decision comes after Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with oil companies and retailers on Sunday to address another day of continued queuing for the pumps, with thousands of petrol stations running dry.
The exemption of the industry from the Competition Act 1998 for the purpose of sharing information and optimising supply—a measure known as the Downstream Oil Protocol—will allow companies to more easily prioritise the delivery of fuel to the parts of the country and strategic locations that are most in need.
Kwarteng said the UK has “long-standing contingency plans in place” to maintain fuel supplies and deliveries in emergency situations.
“While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains,” the business secretary said in a statement.
“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure [the] industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on Monday, Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said the measure is “very welcome,” but “complicated.”
Madderson said the problem of dry pumps is much worse in concentrated urban areas rather than rural areas.
The dry sites “are being restocked at the present time but the number of tankers that they’re receiving are [sic] below the number that they need to be properly restocked at their normal level of between 40 percent and 50 percent,” he said.
Madderson said the temporary suspension of the competition rules will “possibly [allow] the suppliers to put fuel into their competitors’ sites.”
Regarding the cause of the crisis, Madderson laid most of the blame on an information leak that ignited the panic buying of fuels.
“This is a problem caused by somebody who leaked a confidential BP submission to a Cabinet meeting about 10 days ago. We had problems of HGV shortages of drivers getting fuel tankers to the forecourts, but it wasn’t a critical situation at that stage,” Madderson told “BBC Breakfast.”
“The fact that she or he leaked the document, broadcast, there was panic buying right across main urban centres in the UK.”
Madderson said the government needs to fix the “ridiculous” speed of processing driver applications as a long-term solution, but the short-term crisis can be solved by customers.
“If they start buying in their normal quantities, £20 [$27] worth, 20 litres to fill up every week, we could see by the end of this week some return to normality—it won’t be perfect, but some return,” he said.
It’s reported on Monday that some workers, including self-employed tradespeople and medics, have been unable to travel to work because they couldn’t fill their vehicles.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told media outlets on Monday that there’s no shortage of fuels and the shortages of HGV drivers is “quite limited.”
Eustice said there was not a shortage of fuel and blamed motorists for filling up when they did not need to for some petrol stations running dry.
“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 in a pooled clip for broadcasters.
“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,” he said.
“The sooner people do that the better. The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol they don’t need.”
PA contributed to this report.