About 200 military personnel are being trained at haulier sites, 100 of whom are military tanker drivers who will start delivering fuel to forecourts across the country from Monday, the Cabinet Office said.
Ministers said the mobilisation of troops as part of Operation Escalin would help “fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move” ahead of Christmas.
Friday night’s announcement came after Sir Keir Starmer warned that Boris Johnson’s failure to “get a grip” of the HGV driver shortage is threatening to ruin the festive season.
Thousands of petrol stations have reported shortages of fuel this week as motorists embarked on a panic buying frenzy across much of the UK.
The Cabinet Office said demand for fuel has stabilised throughout the week and that more fuel is being delivered to petrol stations than is being sold. It added that some parts of the country still face “challenges” in keeping up with the demand.
The government also announced that a temporary visa scheme for nearly 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers that was due to expire on 24 December will now be extended to the end of February, following criticism of its attractiveness to drivers.
It comes as opposition parties raised the prospect of a parliamentary recall to address the wider situation of labour shortages and supply chain disruption.
Sir Keir said the temporary visa scheme would not be up and running “for weeks”, and said the prime minister should if necessary recall parliament to rush through legislation to ensure the shelves remain stocked in the run-up to Christmas.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Johnson “must immediately recall parliament and convene cross-party talks to set out steps to effectively tackle the Brexit crisis”.
He added: “The severe labour shortages, soaring costs, empty supermarket shelves, ongoing fuel crisis, and trading barriers are all inflicting serious and lasting harm.”
Under the government plan, hauliers will find licensed drivers to recruit and will submit applications to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which will endorse applicants with the necessary license and a contract to work as a fuel driver.
This is in addition to a scheme to allow 4,700 food haulage drivers to arrive from late October and leave by 28 February 2022. There will also be visas for 5,500 poultry workers from late October up to 31 December this year.
The government also said that it is working with the HGV driving sector to make it a more attractive career by improving pay, conditions, and lorry park facilities.
It insists that the “temporary, time-limited visa measures” will not “detract from our commitment to upskill and increase the wages of our domestic labour”.
Steve Barclay, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “The government has taken decisive action to tackle the short-term disruption to our supply chains, and in particular the flow of fuel to forecourts.
“We are now seeing the impact of these interventions with more fuel being delivered to forecourts than sold and, if people continue to revert to their normal buying patterns, we will see smaller queues and prevent petrol stations closing.”
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng reiterated Mr Johnson’s warning against the panic buying of fuel.
He said: “It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal. The sooner we return to our normal buying habits, the sooner we can return to normal.”
Earlier, Sir Keir warned the shortfall of lorry drivers – estimated at around 100,000 by road haulage bodies – was likely to hit more sectors of the economy in the coming months, causing further chaos of the kind seen in the current petrol crisis.
He demanded the immediate deployment of military drivers currently being trained to supply civilian service stations with fuel, as well as extended opening hours to ensure that NHS shift workers and other key staff can get petrol for their cars.