image source, PA Mediaimage captionMotorists queue for petrol in Brockley, south London

Details of a temporary visa scheme to make it easier for foreign lorry drivers to work in the UK are to be set out on Sunday.

Any changes to immigration rules would be for a limited period only, and there would be a cap on the number of workers allowed to enter the country.

It is understood that about 5,000 temporary visas could be issued.

A shortage of drivers has disrupted fuel deliveries, with some petrol stations closing, and queues forming.

The Road Haulage Association estimates the UK is short of about 100,000 HGV drivers – with existing shortages made worse by the pandemic and Brexit.

The government and industry leaders have sought to reassure the public – saying there is no fuel shortage at refineries, and urging people not to panic buy.

And it says there are no plans to use military personnel as drivers in the short-term, as reported in some newspapers.

But the shortage of hauliers threatens more disruption to deliveries of petrol, food and other goods.

The BBC understands the government will also announce a raft of longer-term measures including training up more drivers and addressing the backlog of driving tests.

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Sainsbury's said it was experiencing "high demand" for fuel, with a "tiny proportion of sites" temporarily closed.

BP said about 20 of its 1,200 petrol forecourts were closed, with between 50 and 100 sites affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel.

A "small number" of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted, said Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the sites.

EG Group, which has 341 petrol stations in the UK, is introducing a limit of £30 per customer on all grades of fuel due to "unprecedented customer demand".

One petrol station in Stockport sold 5,280 gallons (24,000 litres) of fuel on Friday, compared with 1,760 gallons (8,000 litres) on the same day the previous week.

The AA said current queues at petrol stations are unlikely to last because the supply chain is not hit by ongoing problems.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, its president Edmund King said: "The good news is you can only really fill up once – you've got to use the fuel, so this should be a short-term thing."

Ministers act despite political embarrassment

This isn't a particularly popular idea with many cabinet ministers.

That's because the new immigration system that came in after Brexit was all about saying to companies: "You can't rely on cheap foreign labour any more, you've got to focus on the workforce in this country, you've got to train them, you've got to pay them better wages."

Relaxing those immigration rules now undermines that message. It could lead to other sectors saying they want special treatment too.

Ministers know this situation could get very difficult, very quickly. So they do have to act – even though this is going to cause huge political embarrassment.

Labour are already saying – we told you about this, we said this should happen months ago.

Boris Johnson knows all too well his opponents are going to be very ready to say: "We told you so."

The European Road Haulers Association said temporary visas would be a "good idea" but are "only part of the solution".

The association said it was easier to drive within the EU than driving between the EU and the UK, meaning staying in the EU may be more appealing for drivers.

Allan Davison, managing director of Hoyer Petrolog UK – BP's transport contractor – told the BBC that temporary visas were needed.

"If this was a permanent request, I would understand the political and practical challenges with that, but it's not," he said. "It's a temporary request."

Lorry drivers have said some of the conditions they face in the job are putting off younger recruits – the average age of a HGV driver in the UK is 55.

Mark, a fuel tanker driver with 30 years' experience, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The issue with this job is, if you stay out in the truck all week it becomes a way of life that you either love or you hate.

"You'll go up to 15 hours a day some days. Once our generation goes out of the industry, they can't attract new people into the industry – young people especially – because people just don't want to be in the truck at night."

image source, Getty Imagesimage captionVehicles queue for fuel at a Sainsbury's petrol station in Weymouth

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "We have ample fuel stocks in this country and the public should be reassured there are no shortages."

The spokesperson said the government was looking at temporary, time-limited measures to introduce.

"We are moving to a high wage, high skilled economy and businesses will need to adapt with more investment in recruitment and training to provide long-term resilience," the spokesperson added.

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