October 19, 2021

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There Are, of Course, Conspiracy Theories About the UK Fuel Shortage

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Phoo: Maureen McLean / Alamy Stock Photo

As we discovered early last year, the British love to panic buy.

This week, drivers in the UK have been queuing for hours outside petrol stations to buy up as much fuel as possible, after reports of supply chain issues caused by a shortage of delivery drivers. The stockpiling – which could be “incredibly dangerous”, as well as ultimately quite unnecessary – has caused fuel prices to rise to an eight-year high and resulted in many petrol stations running dry.

The reasons for the HGV driver shortage are fairly straightforward: Brexit has restricted freedom of movement, meaning there are fewer drivers able to work in the UK, and COVID has delayed new drivers being tested and certified. However, as with any large news event, there are some who refuse to believe the facts.

This week, conspiracy theorists have been sharing their thoughts on the “real” reason we’re in this situation. The most popular theory is that the government has created a “fake fuel crisis” in order to boost the sales of electric cars. Similarly, some have also speculated about a secret “government ploy” to increase electric car popularity in the lead up to November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, as a way to improve the UK’s international reputation.

Twenty-year-old Mason Ling says he believes mainstream media outlets have been employed by the government to “create a false sense of fear around petrol and diesel cars”. This, he believes, is down to the recent government ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and hybrids by 2035.

While the British government is highly capable of creating a national crisis, it’s more than unlikely they manufactured this one. Still, this week, Auto Trader reported a “massive surge” in demand for electric vehicles, while Halfords has seen a 106 percent increase in demand for electric bikes. 

Other conspiracy theorists have claimed the fuel produced during lockdown is about to go “out of date”, and that oil companies have created a “crisis” to use up the supply. A fact check by Reuters found that, unsurprisingly, there was “no evidence that Britain’s fuel crisis is a result of a ploy to sell surplus fuel”.

Uzair, 26, posted a Twitter thread of his own conspiracy theories about the fuel situation to demonstrate how easy it is to fool others into believing them. The thread included theories about boosting the sale of electric cars, and another about the crisis being “engineered so that the fuel industry can get access to cheap labour”.

“I made those theories up to show how easy it is to create a believable conspiracy theory,” says Uzair, adding that he believes the shortage has been mainly caused by “incompetent leadership from a government that doesn’t know what they’re doing”. However, he also believes the reason the government hasn’t found a solution yet is that “they see it as an opportunity to reduce road congestion and implement a mini-lockdown”.

Of course, the reality is the government haven’t sorted it out yet because it’s a complicated situation – albeit one they’ve been warned about for months. So far, they’ve responded by suspending competition law between oil companies, speeding up the process for HGV driver licences and issuing temporary visas to 5,000 foreign fuel tankers and food delivery drivers. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also announced that 150 military tank drivers were on standby to help deliver fuel to petrol stations, with an added 150 army personnel deployed to support them.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted that the supply chain crisis could last for months, but said it was “stabilising” and urged people to return to filling up their vehicles in the “normal way”.

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