image source, EPAimage captionThere were queues at many petrol stations on Monday, including in Friern Barnet, north London

The Army has been put on standby to help ease pressure on petrol stations and deliver fuel to where it is most needed.

Military tanker drivers will be trained so they are ready to be deployed if necessary, the government said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng described it as a "sensible, precautionary step", saying the UK had strong supplies of fuel.

The fuel industry expects demand to return to normal in the coming days.

Ministers have blamed queues at petrol stations and empty pumps on people buying fuel when they do not need it.

Many drivers rushed to stations amid fears a shortage of lorry drivers would hit fuel supplies.

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The Military Aid to the Civil Authorities request was issued by the business secretary on Monday.

Mr Kwarteng said: "The UK continues to have strong supplies of fuel, however we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease these as a matter of priority.

"If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "We are starting to see panic buying moderate – with more grades of fuel now available at more petrol stations.

"People have been responding to the message to only fill up when they actually need fuel and in any case their cars are now fuller.

"Even though the current network of tanker drivers is capable of delivering all the fuel we need – we have taken the additional step of asking the army to help plug the gap, whilst new HGV drivers come on stream thanks to all the other measures we've already taken."

Mr Shapps has also authorised an extension to ADR driver licenses – which allow drivers to transport goods such as fuel – due to expire.

The measure will apply to licenses expiring between 27 September and 31 December, extending their validity until 31 January 2022.

Normally licence holders have to undertake refresher training and pass an exam in the final year their licence is valid as a requirement of renewal.

The government said the change would provide "immediate relief" to the shortage of fuel drivers by allowing those affected to stay on the roads without the need for refresher training.

media captionKey workers and essential trips affected by panic buying

In a joint statement on Monday evening, a group of leading suppliers, including BP and Shell, said there was plenty of fuel at UK refineries.

"As many cars are now holding more fuel than usual, we expect that demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, easing pressures on fuel station forecourts," the statement said.

Meanwhile, doctors and home care staff have called for essential workers to be given priority for fuel.

The UK Homecare Association said people had been left waiting for carers at home because staff had been caught in queues for petrol.

However, ambulances have their own fuel pumps in their depots and their supplies are expected to be prioritised.

The shortage of lorry drivers has caused problems for a range of industries in recent months, from supermarkets to fast food chains.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said the industry had problems with a shortage of HGV drivers but it only became a "critical situation" when a submission by BP to the cabinet was leaked, sparking widespread coverage and panic buying.

More on the lorry driver shortage

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On Sunday the government said it would temporarily exempt fuel companies from competition law, as part of "long-standing" contingency plans to maintain supplies, allowing them to target supplies at areas most in need.

It has also announced it will offer temporary visas, lasting until Christmas Eve, to 5,000 foreign fuel tanker and food lorry drivers and 5,500 poultry workers in a bid to limit disruption in the build up to Christmas.

Other measures include sending nearly one million letters to drivers who hold an HGV licence – to encourage them back into the industry – and plans to train 4,000 people to become HGV drivers.

Factors including Brexit, Covid, pay levels and an aging workforce have all contributed to a shortage of lorry drivers.

After the UK left the EU, many European drivers went back to their home countries, or decided to work elsewhere because of the additional border bureaucracy and the impact it had on their income.

The pandemic also saw foreign drivers return home and led to a huge backlog in HGV driver tests.

image captionA survey from earlier this year suggests a number of reasons for the driver shortage

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