Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the availability of fuel at gas stations around the U.K. is starting to improve even as lines of vehicles continued to queue at petrol pumps.

“We’re starting to see the first signs of stabilization, which won’t yet be reflected in the queues, but is in the percentage of fuel now available” at gas stations, Shapps told broadcasters on Tuesday. He also called for an end to the panic-buying he said has made supply issues worse.

Boris Johnson’s government is struggling to show it can get control, with images of long tailbacks outside gas stations dominating the newspapers for days on an issue of fundamental importance to voters. It’s the latest example of supply chain disruption during the pandemic, which exacerbated an existing shortage of truck shortage of truck drivers after Brexit.

That makes the issue perilous for Johnson, who led the campaign to split the U.K. from its biggest trading partner and critically, signed the divorce deal and trade agreement that cut the supply of labor from the EU’s seamless market.

The government has tried to shift the focus away from Brexit, instead blaming the crisis on the surge in demand caused by an economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The Army has been put on standby to help with deliveries, as ministers try to show they’re getting a grip of the problem.


Calling the Army

Shapps’s announcement reduces the likelihood that Army truck drivers will be deployed -- though he didn’t give any data to support the government’s view that supply levels are increasing at gas stations.

Forecourts around London early Tuesday suggested the crisis is far from over. From Woodford New Road in north London to the Albert Embankment opposite Parliament and Sevenoaks on the city’s southern fringes, many sites still had no fuel.

Read more: Boris Johnson’s Next Make-Or-Break Test Is Gas: Therese Raphael

Locations that did have supplies were experiencing strong demand. At one BP Plc station in southwest London, a truck was in the process of unloading its fuel cargo as a line of about fifty cars waited for it finish.

The government has also faced criticism after several officials blamed motorists for panic-buying, a line Shapps repeated on Tuesday.


‘Just About Coping’

Though he acknowledged the driver shortage, he said the system was “just about coping” before public anxiety set in. “The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.”

Companies involved in producing fuel and distributing it around the U.K. say they are optimistic demand will normalize in the next few days.

But the shortages have triggered concerns about key services being disrupted if staff are not able to fill up and travel to work.

The negative headlines for the government have also coincided with a growing focus in the U.K. on the surging cost of living, with electricity prices rising just as key pandemic support measures come to an end.

Still, the latest official data on U.K. gas prices offered some respite. The price of a liter of unleaded petrol inched up just 0.3 pence to 135.19 pence (US$1.84) per liter in the week through Monday.

In addition to putting the Army on alert, ministers have announced 5,000 short-term visas for foreign truck drivers -- a U-turn on Johnson’s Brexit policy -- and suspended competition rules to allow suppliers to coordinate deliveries.