How Brexit played a role in Britain’s gas shortages

The British government is warning that the country’s fuel crisis is likely to last for another week. Gas stations across Britain have had to shut down because a lack of truckers has caused huge supply difficulties. As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Brighton, on the southern coast of England, the problems appear to be one of the side effects of Brexit.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The British government is warning that the country's fuel crisis is likely to last for at least another week.

    Gas stations across Britain have had to shut down because a shortage of truckers has led to widespread lack of available fuel.

    As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Brighton on the southern coast of England, the problems appear to be one of the side effects of Brexit.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Illuminated gas station signs at night are like homing beacons for Britain's fuel-starved drivers.

  • It’s nearly 2:

    00 in the morning, and I can't believe that, just a half-an-hour ago, I woke up and I thought, oh, I don't have any petrol. I better go and get some, because this is about the only time of night you can get it, that is, if you don't want to waste time, and even more fuel, during daylight hours waiting in a gridlocked line at a gas station that's just had a delivery.

    Sure enough, shortly after dawn, this facility was besieged. Britain has 8, 300 gas stations, and according to industry analysts, more than a quarter of them are empty. For those who don't use public transport or cycle, the fuel famine is becoming what the understated British regard as irritating.

    Artist Jessica Christie Miller.

  • Jessica Christie Miller, Artist:

    I had my sister Charlotte staying with me, who has learning difficulties, and I couldn't get her back to Kent. My husband's broken his knee, and I have to get him to the hospital. It's getting expensive in taxis and alternative travel arrangements.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    What do you think is the real core reason?

  • Jessica Christie Miller:

    It's clearly a combination of Brexit, coronavirus, and a lack of being happy to keep the same workers that we have had.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    She's not alone in blaming the crisis on Britain's exit from the European Union. Many voters voted for Brexit to end the right of other Europeans to live and work in Britain. Many of Britain's truckers came from Eastern Europe. Feeling underpaid and unloved, thousands returned home during the pandemic.

    Businessmen like Usman Ahmed are losing faith in the competence of Boris Johnson's Conservative government.

  • Usman Ahmed, Businessman:

    It's a bit farcical, to be honest. It's being run very poorly at the moment. So, can you solely blame the government for something like this? Well, I think foresight would have been quite useful.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It wasn't long before this gas station ran out of diesel. The government is spinning this as a temporary supply blip. It says it has a battalion of military drivers ready to go. It is also granting emergency visas to 5,000 foreign drivers.

    Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

  • Kwasi Kwarteng, Britain Business Secretary:

    I'm not guaranteeing anything. All I'm saying is that I think the situation is stabilizing. I think people realize that this will pass.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Just three miles from this gas station, at the Labor Party annual conference, opposition leader Keir Starmer twisted the knife.

  • Keir Starmer Labor Party Leader:

    Prime Minister, either get a grip, or get out of the way, and let us step up and clear up this mess.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    As the crisis continues to bite, opinion polls suggest most Britons would prefer Starmer to Boris Johnson as prime minister. Johnson, a former journalist, blamed the media for the crisis.

  • Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister:

    Unfortunately, there was a slightly misleading account of something which got leaked and caused a big, totally understandable surge in public demand.

    We think we can — the actual number of lorry drivers that were short in that particular sector isn't very big.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Britain is short of at least 90,000 truckers, and, without them, supply chains for gas and other businesses are in jeopardy.

    Business analyst Nick Peters worries that Britain is becoming an international laughingstock.

  • Nick Peters, ManufacturingTV:

    The great promise post-Brexit was that the U.K. would be free to develop a new global power base and become this entrepreneurial hot spot. The fact of the matter is, at the moment, that, given these crises, the country is riven with disagreements over how to go forward. People don't have any faith in the government at all.

    We're in a desperate time in this country. At the moment, people looking at us from overseas and just wondering, what the heck is going on?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Across the channel in Brussels, European policy analyst Sophie Pornschlegel says Britain's former partners are more concerned than amused.

  • Sophie Pornschlegel, European Policy Center:

    U.K. politicians, and especially Brexiteers, really backed themselves into a corner, and now they can't get out of it. They said that we would have opportunities with Brexit that just didn't happen, and what you see now is the negative consequences to not have freedom of movement.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The fear in Britain is that this shortage is just a taste of things to come, and it'll be even worse by Christmas.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Brighton.

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