Media caption, PM: UK economy should not return "to the failed model where you mainline low-wage, low-skilled labour"

Only 127 fuel drivers from overseas have applied for temporary visas aimed at tackling shortages, the prime minister has said.

The government is offering immediate visas for 300 foreign tanker drivers to work in the UK from now until the end of March to deliver fuel to forecourts.

Mr Johnson said it was a "fascinating illustration of the problem", which he added was a "global" issue.

However, he said there was a "particular problem in the UK".

The government is offering a further 4,700 temporary visas in total for foreign food lorry drivers, which will last from late October to the end of February, in a bid to avoid other supply chain issues. It is not yet known how many people have applied to this scheme.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, the prime minister said the haulage industry had "only produced 127 names so far" in response to the government's scheme.

  • What's happening about petrol shortages?
  • Why is there an HGV driver shortage?

Mr Johnson said working in road haulage "should be a great job", but added that there had been an underinvestment in facilities and pay conditions.

He dismissed the suggestion that the problem was anything to do with Brexit. He noted the "supply chain problem is linked to recovery" and said other parts of the world were also affected.

"Imagine the UK has been in deep freeze and the pipes are unfreezing right now – stresses and strain of the economy waking up," he said.

The Road Haulage Association said the small number of visa applications was the "proof in the pudding" that short-term visas were "not going to be attractive".

A spokesman for the trade body said that for visas to be an attractive proposition to overseas lorry drivers, they needed to last 12 months.

"The reality is that we have to assume these drivers from abroad are already in employment elsewhere. If visas are only three months… it's unlikely there is going to be much take up," he added.

Trade bodies have estimated the UK currently has a shortage of about 90,000 HGV drivers, which has been caused by several factors, including the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and an ageing workforce.

The shortages have started to affect supply chains in recent months, with some supermarkets struggling to stock certain products and petrol stations being unable to stock enough fuel to meet demand.

The shortages in fuel tanker drivers led to panic buying at the pumps, though supplies have improved in some areas in recent days according to data from the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA)

About 200 servicemen and women from the Army and RAF have been drafted in to help deliver fuel from depots to forecourts.

The PRA said one in five forecourts in London and the south-east of England still remained dry on Monday.

On Tuesday, BP said the situation appeared to be stabilising, with stocks increasing across its sites.

Under the government's bespoke scheme, foreign fuel tanker drivers who successfully apply for visas will be able to work in the UK from now until the end of March.

The foreign drivers eligible for visas will not be limited to the EU, but the expectation is most of the drivers will be from Europe.

The government has said temporary visas are not a long-term solution and has urged firms to invest in a UK workforce.

Mr Johnson said the UK economy could not "go back to the failed model where you mainline low-wage, low-skilled labour".

"It's time for investing in people and skills."

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