Brexit is “obviously a contributory factor” to the shortage of HGV drivers that is having a knock-on effect across the economy, the shadow chancellor has told Sky News.
Speaking to Kay Burley from the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Rachel Reeves said: “To deny that I think flies in the face of reality.
“There are other problems as well, an ageing workforce, problems with the pandemic.
“But when you cut off a supply of labour which we did when we left the European Union then you are of course contributing and adding to problems.”
She was responding to comments from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who told Sky News last week: “I’ve seen people point to Brexit as if it’s the culprit here. In fact, they’re wrong.”
The HGV shortage, which has been estimated at more than 100,000 drivers, has led to fuel supply issues and in turn sparked instances of panic buying of petrol.
Supermarkets have also in some cases struggled to fill their shelves.
The government is considering using the army to help with fuel deliveries as some petrol brands report as many as 90% of their sites running dry.
One petrol station reported a 500% spike in demand compared to last week, with motorway service stations being given refill priority.
Downing Street announced on Sunday that it would temporarily suspend competition laws to allow the fuel industry to target petrol stations most in need of fresh supplies.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met industry executives on Sunday to try to find a way through supply chain pressures that have led to panic-buying of fuel.
It estimated around 30% of its 1,200 UK sites do not currently have either of the main grades of fuel.
Ms Reeves accused ministers of failing to “get a grip on the crisis” and “we’re now seeing that play out on garage forecourts and in our supermarkets”.
She continued: “The government, instead of denying the problem and blaming others, which is what Grant Shapps was doing at the weekend, they need to get a grip and sort out these problems.
“Because frankly it’s not fair and it’s not right that ordinary working people are queuing for hours on end to get petrol to go about their day-to-day business.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan echoed his Labour colleague’s criticism, telling Sky News that “we knew for some time that this was going to happen” and the government had “taken their eye off the ball and it’s ordinary people who are suffering”.
He said some care workers, NHS staff and taxi drivers have been unable to fill up.
“We are working with the DfT [Department for Transport] to do what we can to make sure we have fuel being provided particularly for those key workers across our city,” Mr Khan said.
The shadow chancellor was speaking ahead of her speech to conference, in which she will promise that a future Labour government would scrap business rates as part of “the biggest overhaul of business taxation in a generation”.
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