“Sorry, out of order. “ The little sign was hung from the pump pistols at this South London gas station. After an unusual influx of customers on Saturday 25 September there is no fuel left here, as at hundreds of other service stations across the UK.

The country is experiencing a gasoline shortage, the result of very poor management of a crisis that mixes Covid-19, Brexit and panic among motorists.

Police in Lincolnshire (northern England) have asked engine manufacturers to avoid joining too long queues for petrol stations, which risk clogging the roads. BP has closed about twenty stations (out of 1,200) and nearly a hundred do not have all the fuels available. EG Group, which owns 341 stations, has imposed a purchase limit of 30 pounds (35 euros) per customer.

“And now we are driving empty”

In fact, the UK is not short of petrol, but of truckers to transport it. Like most countries in Europe, the country faces a shortage of truck drivers. This profession does not attract, for a long time, and the pandemic has profoundly disrupted the profession: examinations for driving licenses have been frozen during the various confinements, and the sudden reopening of economies causes an increase in demand that carriers struggle to follow.

But the situation is worse across the Channel because of Brexit. For a long time, drivers from Eastern Europe came to compensate for the lack of manpower. During the pandemic, many of them returned to their country, preferring to spend periods of confinement with their families. Many did not return. And since the 1er January, when the UK officially exited the single market, it is no longer possible to bring in new workers without a work permit.

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The British Road Transport Association has been sounding the alarm for months. According to her, there is a shortage of 100,000 drivers across the country. For months, traders have complained: deliveries arrive late and are often incomplete. In supermarkets, empty or sparse shelves have become common. Restaurants have faced temporary shortages of chicken, milkshakes, packaging …

This weekend, the phenomenon ended up affecting gas pumps. Thursday, a few dozen of them had to close. The press has made its headlines. “And now we are driving empty”shouted the Daily Mail Friday.

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