'We can bring the government down': Truckers vow to halt Britain's traffic in support of striking tanker drivers by blockading refineries and motorways
- Thousands of truckers to stop soldiers moving fuel around the UK in the event of a strike
- They are led by haulier Andrew Spence who warns 'this time we will bring the Government down'
- William Hague says Britain is better prepared to withstand a strike by tanker drivers because of the Government actions over past week
- Diane Hill remains in a critical condition in hospital as council promises social workers will be sent to neighbours who witnessed her burning
- AA spokesman says panic buying has 'dramatically dropped'
Thousands of truckers are preparing to go head to head with the army in support of striking tanker drivers - and have warned they will 'bring Britain to a halt'.
They plan to blockade refineries and cause gridlock on motorways to stop soldiers moving fuel around the UK in the event of a strike.
Fuel Lobby leaders who are concerned at rocketing prices have formed an alliance with the tanker drivers, whose union bosses will begin talks this week to try to prevent strike action.
It follows a disastrous week for the Government after ministers faced intense criticism for urging motorists to keep their petrol tanks topped up - prompting a wave of panic-buying at filling stations across the country.
The truckers are led by farmer and haulier Andrew Spence, who was instrumental in the blockades in 2000 which led to 3,000 petrol stations running out of fuel.
The father-of three, who runs a mixed farm and plant hire company in Consett, County Durham, said he would 'bring Britain to a halt' unless his organisation's concerns were addressed.
He said: 'We have been in negotiations with the tanker drivers since 2000 and have been aware of their grievances for some time.
'We have said to them we may have to stand beside them in any protest. We are better organised than we were in 2000. This time we will bring the Government down.'
He said the action was a 'last resort' because hauliers and farmers were going bust.
'People are going to the wall. The pressure we are under is ridiculous,' he added.
'The price of fuel is rising by the day and 63 per cent of the price is tax. It is costing me £200 a day just to run an average sized tractor.
'I filled up the five wagons I run yesterday and it cost me £7,500. That fuel will last till Tuesday and then I'll have to fill them up all over again.
'There is no way you can make a living. We are supposed to be coming out of a recession but it feels like we are getting deeper into it.'
The Fuel Lobby blockades in 2000 were driven by the cost of petrol and diesel for road vehicle use. They were led primarily by lorry drivers and farmers.
The protests forced the government to announce a freezing of fuel duties and promised changes would be made to the way that goods vehicles on British road were taxed.
Chaos: Truckers plan to blockade refineries and cause gridlock on motorways to stop soldiers moving fuel around the UK in the event of a strike by tanker drivers. Pictured are a convoy of fuel tankers under police escort during the 2000 blockades
Mr Spence said: 'There is no meat left on the bone.
'It just cannot go on. If it does, we'll be back to the days of Steptoe and Son and I'll be delivering to Tesco and Asda in a horse and cart, which right now does not seem such a poor option.
'When you are put in a corner, what can you do? We are in that corner and we are going to come out and fight.'
His warning came as Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is better prepared to withstand a strike by tanker drivers because of the actions taken by the Government over the past week.
Ministers faced criticism for urging motorists to keep their petrol tanks topped up, which led to panic-buying at filling stations across the country.
Warnings: The truckers are led by farmer and haulier Andrew Spence, pictured, who was instrumental in the blockades in 2000 which led to 3,000 petrol stations running out of fuel
Unite, the trade union concerned, is now due to enter peace talks at the conciliation service Acas, and has said there will be no action until after the Easter break at the earliest.
However, Mr Hague insisted ministers had been right to warn motorists of the possible threat to fuel supplies.
'Had they not set out the precautions that people should take and alerted people to the situation, then, if the strike took place in the coming weeks, it would be said that they were complacent and hadn't prepared the country,' he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.
'The country is in a better state of preparedness now than it was a week ago for the eventuality of a tanker strike, so I think they have handled that correctly.
'I think my colleagues have done absolutely the right thing to urge people to take sensible precautions and I think they will be vindicated by events over the coming days.'
Labour MPs have called for the resignation of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who has faced a barrage or criticism from fire experts since advising motorists earlier this week to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages.
Diane Hill, 46, from York, is still in hospital with 40 per cent burns after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol from one container to another, setting fire to her clothing.
The mother-of-two remains in a critical condition in the specialist burns unit at Pinderfields hospital in Wakefield.
Leader of the City of York Council councillor James Alexander has promised social workers will be sent to counsel those neighbours who witnessed Ms Hill trying desperately to free herself of her burning clothes.
Ms Hill's daughters returned to the family home briefly yesterday but were too upset to comment.
They have been staying by their mother's hospital bedside.
Panic: Drivers queue for fuel at a Shell Garage in Liverpool last week following controversial advice from the Government ahead of a possible strike by fuel tanker drivers
Anger: Ministers faced criticism for urging motorists to keep their petrol tanks topped up, which led to panic-buying at filling stations across the country, including at this Morrisons in Northampton
Yesterday, a friend who did not wish to be named dropped off a get well card. 'We are all just praying for her,' the woman said.
Her next door neighbour Margot Johnston, 86, described seeing Ms Hill burn as being worse than her experiences of war.
She watched horrified from an upstairs bedroom window as the mother of two tried desperately to free herself of her burning clothes.
The retired teacher said she would welcome a visit of support.
Claims: Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is better prepared to withstand a strike by tanker drivers because of the actions taken by the Government over the past week
Speaking from her smart three-bedroom semi-detached home, she said: 'I've heard nothing about any visit from a social worker but it would be welcome, I suppose.
'At the moment I'm making do with a large gin and tonic.'
Mrs Johnston said she did not think the accident was as a result of fuel hoarding.
'She was not hoarding fuel, she was not a hoarder,' she said.
'She keeps the petrol for her lawnmower and was trying to refuel it.
'The family are very private and I think they are embarrassed to find themselves so much in the public eye.'
However, Mr Hague dismissed the call by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude for people to fill up jerry cans with petrol as a 'technical error'.
Neighbours: Margot Johnson, left, said she would welcome a visit from a social worker after she witnessed Diane Hill, right, trying desperately to free herself of her burning clothes
Horrific: Pictured is Diane Hill's home in York, where she was set on fire after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol from one container to another
'Of course the solution to this is for the union in question to call off the strike which is not in the interests of their industry, it is obviously not in the interests of the country as a whole,' he said.
A spokeswoman for BP said demand for fuel had eased following the new Government advice.
An AA spokesman said panic buying had 'dramatically dropped', adding: 'I think where there has been a problem, it has been waiting for petrol stations to be replenished and some drivers have interpreted that as a continued problem.'
A Conservative Party spokesman said: 'The Government has always been clear this is about doing everything possible to protect the country from a potentially crippling strike, and not about playing politics.
'We urge Unite to negotiate with the employers, and to make clear there will be no strike.'
Under pressure: Labour MPs have called for the resignation of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who has faced criticism since advising motorists earlier this week to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages. He is pictured with his wife Christina
The union representing fuel tanker drivers is preparing to enter peace talks amid a plea to the Government not to scupper the prospect of a deal to avert strikes.
With talks set to begin at the conciliation service Acas this week, Unite - which represents fuel tanker drivers - urged the Government to distance itself from speculation that the message to stockpile fuel was part of a deliberate strategy to give the coalition its 'miners moment'.
Queues have now shortened on petrol forecourts after drivers were urged not to panic-buy fuel.
The Government issued new advice, telling motorists there was 'no urgency' to top up tanks, after Unite ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said yesterday: 'We call on the Government to come clean on its whole approach to this dispute. Is it acting as an honest broker, or is it spoiling for a fight in order to get itself out of the political hole its class-focused economic mismanagement has put it in?
'Over the last few days its every move has been designed to whip up unnecessary tension at the expense of the public.
'Ministers knew all along that a strike could not possibly be less than seven days away even were it to be called - that is the law. Yet they panicked the nation all the way to the petrol pumps because they imagined it would boost them in the polls.
'The British people know that this posturing and positioning is poisoning the prospects for an early resolution to the dispute.
'Serious industrial issues are being lost in this machismo. This is an industry of vital strategic importance, which is being rocked by cost-cutting by companies making billions in profit and where safety and training is being cut to the bone.
'The Government should take a lead in addressing these issues - instead it is ready to meet the companies to discuss strike-breaking, but not prepared to lift a finger to resolve the underlying problems.'