REPORTING FROM LONDON -– There’s no fuel shortage, no strike planned, no reason to panic. But worried motorists across Britain ignored all that Thursday as they joined long lines at gas stations, intent on stocking up just in case any of those realities should change.
Fuel-tanker drivers here have threatened to take industrial action if their demands for better working conditions and wages aren’t met. But no strike has actually been called, and rules require seven days’ notice before any such job action, which would disrupt deliveries to 8,000 gas stations around the country, can take place.
That didn’t stop the British government from jumping in and adding fuel to the fire instead of calming the situation, critics say. Government ministers have been advising consumers to top off their tanks or fill extra containers, prompting a run at the pumps that’s now proving to be a political embarrassment.
Lines were reportedly so long in parts of southwest England that police asked some stations to close to keep roads from getting blocked. Automotive stores reported higher-than-normal sales of jerry cans. Frustrated motorists sat behind the wheel and waited for their turn at panic buying, despite gas prices that would make Americans cringe in horror: about $8.50 a gallon.
The government has even floated the idea of using army personnel to drive tankers, which drew a derisive response Thursday from a trade group that represents about 5,500 gas station owners.
“What kind of serious, professional emergency preparation does this constitute?” said Brian Madderson, chairman of RMI Petrol.
The organization said that demand for gas Tuesday was up 45% from the week before, and 81% on Wednesday.
Jacked-up opposition politicians gleefully attacked the ruling Conservative Party.
“They’ve presided over a complete shambles and chaos,” Labor Party leader Ed Miliband told Sky News. “I’m not hearing enough from government ministers about how to sort out this dispute before we get to a strike.”
The BBC reported that tanker drivers are expected to enter into negotiations Monday, meaning that the busy Easter weekend would be safe from any industrial action, given the seven-day rule.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Motorists line up for gas Thursday at a station in Gateshead, England. Credit: Scott Heppell / Associated Press