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Truck boss accused of causing gas pump crisis: ministers point the finger at ex-BBC man

A former BBC boss who opposed Brexit has been accused of causing the gas pump crisis.

Ministers say Rod McKenzie has fueled the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking comments made by a BP manager during a closed government meeting. Senior sources suggested he ‘armed’ the comments to divert blame for the UK’s supply chaos.

Mr McKenzie, who ran the BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat for over two decades before joining the Road Haulage Association, denied the claim last night.

As director of policy for the RHA, he has blamed post-Brexit immigration restrictions on the industry crisis and called on the government to lift visa restrictions to allow more foreign drivers into the country.

The fuel crisis began to snowball last week after comments from BP retail chief Hanna Hofer were leaked at a cabinet meeting. On Sept. 16, Ms. Hofer told officials, carriers and other industry figures that the company had “two-thirds of normal stock levels at the gas station.”

Ministers say Rod McKenzie (pictured above) has fueled the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking comments made by a BP executive at a closed government meeting

Ministers say Rod McKenzie (pictured above) has fueled the nationwide panic-buying frenzy by selectively leaking comments made by a BP manager during a closed government meeting

A motorist puts half a dozen fuel containers on the floor of the forecourt in Upminster to fill her trunk with fuel as desperate drivers queue for hours at a time

A motorist puts half a dozen fuel containers on the floor of the forecourt in Upminster to fill her trunk with fuel as desperate drivers queue for hours at a time

However, according to a high-ranking government source, she also said the situation had “been going on for weeks” and very few gas stations had to close. Crucially, those additional comments — which government insiders believe would have prevented or at least reduced fuel panic buying — were not made public.

Mr McKenzie said he did not attend the meeting and strongly denied that there was any direct evidence that he or anyone at the RHA had leaked the selective comments.

But a senior government source said: ‘McKenzie must have been aware of Mrs Hofer’s comments and had every reason to arm them. The RHA leaks every encounter they have with us. They have a criminal record as long as their arm.

“McKenzie is just a moaning Remainer and he and the RHA are fully responsible for this panic and chaos. We’ll deal with them when this is over.’

BP denied that one of its employees was behind the leak, with a spokeswoman saying it “would have been completely counterproductive.”

BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases last night after motorists were seen at petrol stations filling multiple jerry cans.

Meanwhile, the government has announced that up to 4,000 people will be trained as truck drivers. Defense Department examiners will be hired to increase capacity for those wishing to take truck tests, and nearly a million letters will be sent to people currently holding truck drivers’ licenses encouraging them to return to the industry.

The Ministry of Education is also investing up to £10 million to create new ‘boot camps’ to train 3,000 additional truck drivers in short, intensive and free courses.

An ambulance leaves a Shell garage, which is out of unleaded petrol, after filling up with fuel in London on Saturday

An ambulance leaves a Shell garage, which is out of unleaded petrol, after filling up with fuel in London on Saturday

Motorists queue to fill up their cars at a Sainsbury's petrol station in Ashford, Kent, on Saturday night

Motorists queue to fill up their cars at a Sainsbury’s petrol station in Ashford, Kent, on Saturday night

An aerial view of motorists queuing in Kent on Saturday.  BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases last night after motorists were seen at petrol stations filling multiple jerry cans

An aerial view of motorists queuing in Kent on Saturday. BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases last night after motorists were seen at petrol stations filling multiple jerry cans

However, Stanlow’s oil refinery in Ellesmere Port has given the government new headaches and was engaged in urgent talks last night to avoid a financial collapse that could put further pressure on gas stations. The company, which supplies about a sixth of Britain’s road fuel but has struggled during the pandemic, is looking to strike a deal with HMRC to defer £223 million in tax payments.

Ministers are said to have rejected a bailout but are closely monitoring the situation, the Sunday Times said. The refinery’s owner, Essar Oil UK, described the talks with HMRC as ‘positive’.

The RHA claims that around 20,000 European drivers have left the UK and blames the situation on ‘the uncertainty of Brexit and future rights to live and work in the UK’.

They say the driver shortage could lead to empty supermarket shelves and spread to other industries, including waste collection and over-the-counter medicines.

Customers queuing in their cars on Saturday to access an Asda service station in east London

Customers queuing in their cars on Saturday to access an Asda service station in east London

A Shell garage worker holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic they don't have unleaded petrol

A Shell garage worker holds a sign on the side of the road informing traffic they don’t have unleaded petrol

Queues at the BP service station in Soham, Cambridgeshire, at 8am on Saturday morning as panic buying continued

Queues at the BP service station in Soham, Cambridgeshire, at 8am on Saturday morning as panic buying continued

But in an article today for The Mail on Sunday, Transport Minister Grant Shapps describes Brexit as ‘a relatively minor contribution to a problem in the UK that is repeating itself in Germany and worse in Poland’.

He said leaving the EU “allowed me to change the law to allow for more truck testing”. He also urges the public to ‘drive for Britain’, writing: ‘The shortage of drivers is a pan-European problem, so the situation here in the UK cannot be solved by increasing to trust foreign workers.

Much of the world is witnessing post-pandemic turbulence in supply chains caused by driver shortages. In the UK this has been reflected in recent months by the occasional pump missing a certain type of fuel – say half a day of super unleaded. What we’ve seen in recent days, however, is panic buying, where we need to prevent a very small problem from becoming a much bigger problem.”

Despite less than 100 of the UK’s 8,350 service stations running out of fuel, there were sporadic scenes of violence yesterday as motorists continued to ignore pleas not to panic. Footage from an Esso gas station near Chichester, West Sussex, shows punches and kicks being exchanged during a brawl.

AA President Edmund King said the problem would be solved in days if drivers only refueled when needed, because there was “enough fuel at the source.”

But the Petrol Retailers’ Association warned the situation could get worse before it improves.

Asked about the crisis yesterday, Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Truck drivers keep this country going. We’re taking action to address the driver shortage by removing barriers to help more people start new, high-paying careers in the industry, and supporting thousands to get the training they need to be ready for the route.’

Environment Minister George Eustice added: ‘We have listened to the concerns of the sector and are acting to alleviate the very tight labor market.’

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