British soldiers start delivering fuel as chancellor admits there will be Christmas shortages

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Watch: Army drivers hit the road to tackle UK fuel drama

British soldiers have started delivering petrol in an effort to help ease the UK’s fuel crisis.

Army tanker drivers took to the roads for the first time on Monday to deliver fuel supplies to parts of the country still in desperate need of petrol.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted on Monday that Britons could experience other shortages in the run-up to Christmas.

About 200 military personnel – half of them drivers – are being deployed in Operation Escalin.

Members of the armed forces at Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, in Hemel Hempstead. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021.
Members of the armed forces at Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, in Hemel Hempstead on Monday. (PA)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04: British soldiers are seen at Buncefield oil storage depot before British military to start delivering fuel to petrol stations in London, England on October 04, 2021. (Photo by Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
British soldiers at Buncefield oil storage depot before the military started delivering fuel to petrol stations. (Getty Images)

On Monday morning, soldiers were pictured in uniform and face masks walking near the gates of the Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

The troops have been on standby since the start of last week.

They will deliver fuel to areas of London and South East England where the most significant shortages remain.

They included members of the 3rd Logistic Support Regiment, who have been training with the petroleum industry logistics company Hoyers in Thurrock, Essex.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents about 5,000 independent members, said about 22% of petrol stations in London and the South East still do not have fuel.

Fuel tankers at Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, in Hemel Hempstead. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)
Fuel tankers at Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, in Hemel Hempstead on Monday. (PA Images via Getty Images)
A tanker is refilled at Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, in Hemel Hempstead. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)
A tanker is refilled at Buncefield oil depot on Monday. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Its executive director Gordon Balmer told Sky News on Monday: “We have a straw poll each day of our members, and yesterday about 11,000 sites responded.

“About 22% of fuel stations in London and the South East are without fuel.

“One of the situations seems to be worse with BP but we know that they are rectifying that.

“Some of our members are saying that they have been without fuel for a number of days – some over a week now.”

Balmer said it could take between a week and 10 days to get all sites running with normal levels of fuel.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/10/03: Cars queue at a reopened Texaco station in Central London. 
Many stations in the UK have run out of petrol due to a shortage of truck drivers linked to Brexit, along with panic buying. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Cars queue at a reopened Texaco station in central London on Sunday. (Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/10/03: 'Sorry, Out Of Use' signs cover the petrol pumps at a Shell station in Islington. 
Many UK stations have run out of petrol due to a shortage of truck drivers linked to Brexit, along with panic buying. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
'Sorry, Out Of Use' signs cover the petrol pumps at a Shell station in Islington, north London, on Sunday. (Getty Images)
Motorists queue for a petrol station to open at a Tesco in Ashford, Kent. Picture date: Sunday October 3, 2021.
Motorists queue for a petrol station to open at a Tesco in Ashford, Kent, on Sunday. (PA)

Meanwhile, Sunak conceded there will be shortages this Christmas but insisted the government is trying to “mitigate” the problem.

After Boris Johnson refused to rule out festive shortages, Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re seeing supply disruption, not just here but in lots of different places, and there are things we can try and mitigate, and we are.

“But we can’t wave a magic wand. There’s nothing I can do about the decision by a country in Asia to shut down a port because of a coronavirus outbreak.

“But be assured we are doing everything that is in our control to try and mitigate some of these challenges.”

Industry leaders have warned there will be gaps on supermarket shelves this Christmas.

Pig farmers protested outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Monday amid calls for a COVID recovery visa to allow firms to recruit from outside the UK.

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said: “They are protesting outside and they are angry, distraught and extremely upset.

“They have been calling for this, we have been calling for an emergency scheme, a COVID recovery scheme, to be put in place to avoid this very scenario.”

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak heads to the second day of the annual Conservative Party Conference being held at the Manchester Central convention centre in Manchester, north-west England, on October 4, 2021. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he cannot 'wave a magic wand' to avert future shortages in the UK. (AFP via Getty Images)

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told Sky News that Christmas turkeys are likely to be from the continent this year due to labour shortages in Britain following Brexit, and added that some foods, such as pigs in blankets, may not be available.

“We’re not saying that there’s not going to be food on the table at Christmas, but we’re struggling to put the party food together – the pigs in blankets, the netting of gammons,” he said.

But Andy Higginson, chairman of supermarket Morrisons, said concerns have been “slightly overblown”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are logistical issues at the moment and those are well publicised and slightly overblown.

“Supply chains in the UK are incredibly efficient and I am sure we will be able to deliver a great Christmas for customers as we go through.”

Watch: Boris Johnson indicates shortages could continue until Christmas

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