Brexit has helped provide solutions to the shortages in the haulage sector rather than create them, according to the Transport Secretary.
In comments contested by Labour, Grant Shapps said those who argued Brexit was one of the factors behind the current supply shortage were “wrong”, particularly given other European nations are experiencing the same turbulence.
It comes after BP said on Thursday it had closed a “handful” of its petrol forecourts due to difficulties in securing fuel deliveries.
The Road Haulage Association has previously estimated that about 20,000 European drivers have left the UK since Britain’s divorce from the European Union, bringing the country’s total shortage to 100,000.
But Mr Shapps said Brexit had enabled him to make changes to relieve the testing “bottleneck” which he would not have otherwise been able to do if Britain had still been a member of the Brussels bloc.
The Cabinet minister told Sky News: “I’ve seen people point to Brexit as if it is the culprit here. In fact, they are wrong.
“Not only are there very large and even larger shortages in other EU countries like Poland and Germany, which clearly can’t be to do with Brexit, but actually because of Brexit, I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way our driving tests operate in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU.
“So, Brexit actually has provided part of the solution of giving more slots available for HGV tests and there are a lot more – twice as many – tests available now than before the pandemic, a large proportion of those we’ve only been able to do because we are no longer in the EU.”
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds, however, said the UK Government’s handling of Brexit had been partly to blame for adding extra pressure on the HGV sector – although she admitted there were “other factors in play”.
The former shadow chancellor said there had been “big failures” in mitigating what has been a long-term issue in the haulage industry and that “additional red tape” caused by Brexit had exacerbated the problem.
“I talk to advanced manufacturers in my patch for example, and they tell me that now they have got to fill in dozens of pages of paperwork and that is quite a tall order for a HGV driver if they have got to be dealing with all of that, as well as getting goods from one place to another,” the Opposition MP told Sky News.
“So undoubtedly the Government’s method of implementing Brexit has had an impact overall on the system, but there are other factors that are in play here.”
Ms Dodds urged ministers to reconsider their “failure” to ask the Migration Advisory Committee about whether rules on foreign truck drivers should be relaxed to alleviate the strains on deliveries.
The Transport Secretary said he was “ruling nothing out” in order to fix the haulier shortage but added that he was wary about importing cheap foreign labour.
Asked whether he would be prepared to relax the rules on European drivers being able to work in the UK, Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “I will do whatever is required, if that would help.
“What I don’t want to do, and I’ve been hinting at this, is undercut with, as has happened before, cheaper European drivers and then find our drivers drop out because they are being undercut.
“That doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates a new problem.”