Drivers queuing for hours for petrol “couldn’t care less” if tanker drivers are foreign, Labour’s shadow Chancellor says, as she called for looser immigration rules to ease the crisis.
Rachel Reeves urged the government to refer the issue of how many overseas drivers are needed to the independent Migration Advisory Committee – after a miserly 5,000 visas were issued.
Asked why Labour was not, in Gordon Brown’s phrase, advocating “British workers for British jobs”, Ms Reeves said the priority is to end the immediate crisis, as petrol stations run dry.
“Right now, we’ve got a situation where there are 100,000 too few HGV drivers on our roads and we haven’t got enough people who want to be driving those trucks and have got the qualifications to do so,” the shadow Chancellor told BBC Radio 4.
“Most people who are queuing up this morning, whether that’s in Brighton or Leeds or wherever, to fill up their car, they couldn’t care less whether the HGV driver that’s got the petrol to the forecourt is British or foreign.
“What they want to know is that they can fill up their car or their van and go about the business – so let’s plug those gaps.”
Ahead of her conference speech, in which Labour will pledge to slash business rates to help the high street, Ms Reeves was also asked about the party’s divisions on trans rights.
On Sunday, Keir Starmer said the MP Rosie Duffield, who has not travelled to Brighton after receiving threats and being branded transphobic, was wrong to say “only women have a cervix”.
Pressed on whether the comment was transphobic, Ms Reeves told LBC Radio: “I don’t even know how to start answering these questions.”
Challenged again, she replied: “I wouldn’t say that. If somebody identifies as a woman or a man, they should be able to do so whatever their body parts are.”
Asked about Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, calling the government “scum, Ms Reeves said: “I wouldn’t use that language.
“But I think that sentiment is shared by many people who are struggling at the moment, queuing for petrol, who are worried about cuts to universal credit next month and worried about increases in taxes next year.”
The comments about the driver shortage came as Boris Johnson holds an emergency meeting with Cabinet ministers and senior officials to discuss bringing in the army to drive tankers.
Competition rules are being relaxed so petrol companies, hauliers and retailers can share data and redistribute supply where there are gaps across the country.
The measure is similar to the policy to ease the panic-buying of loo roll and pasta at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.