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The BBC's Robert Hall
"The government won't be bounced into a tax cut"
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The BBC's Mark Mardell in Westminster
"It is absolutely crystal clear that the policy is not going to change"
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Prime Minister Tony Blair
"We cannot alter government policy through blockades and pickets"
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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Fuel price cut ruled out

Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will not give in to fuel price protests that have led to shortages, panic buying and traffic chaos across the UK.

As pump protests around the country gathered momentum on Monday, Mr Blair ruled out any concessions on fuel prices.

That is not the way to make policy in Britain and as far as I am concerned it never will be

Tony Blair
During a speech at the launch of a government e-commerce drive in Loughborough, Leicestershire, the prime minister said he "could not and would not" alter government policy through blockades and pickets.

"That is not the way to make policy in Britain and as far as I am concerned it never will be," he said.

Road chaos

Mr Blair blamed the rise in fuel prices on the increase in world oil prices which had gone from $10 to $30 a barrel in recent months.

"The sensible way, indeed the only right way, to deal with this problem is to put pressure on Opec itself, not to let them off the hook by caving in to blockades here," he said.

Six of the country's nine oil refineries and four distribution depots have been disrupted by protests so far and the campaign looks set to continue gathering momentum.

The fuel protest also brought chaos to roads across the country on Monday and ambulances in Staffordshire have been told they should travel at no more than 55 miles an hour to non-emergencies, to try to save petrol.

Slow moving lorries and tractors led to long delays in Edinburgh and there was serious disruption on the M6 in Cumbria and the M1 in Nottinghamshire.

Campaigners have vowed to continue their protests until the government reacts.

Oil price drop

Meanwhile, Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, insisted it was the government's duty to cut prices.

A decision by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) to increase oil production by 3%, or 800,000 barrels per day, has resulted in a small drop in the price of oil from $32.78 a barrel to $32.20.

But analysts predict the actual price of petrol will not be greatly affected as a result, with 80% of the cost of fuel at the petrol pumps accounted for by taxation.

Notice telling customers they can only buy 5 worth of petrol
Running dry: Petrol rationing at one York garage
Roy Holloway, director of the Petrol Retailers' Association, warned that although the situation was not yet critical the protests could eventually result in vital supplies to hospitals and industry being affected.

Shadow transport secretary Archie Norman said: "It is now clear that the protests over fuel duty are not going to fade away as the Government hoped.

"They reflect a genuine, widespread and heartfelt disquiet over the effects of successive tax increases on the lives and welfare of ordinary people.

"The time has come for the government to think again about its strategy of taxing the motorist and exploiting the oil price increase as a source of revenue."

Meanwhile in France, where the protests originally began, hauliers announced that all blockades at refineries and depots had now been lifted following a deal with the government.

But similar protests are being held in Belgium and Italy, with hauliers in Ireland threatening to start action next week.

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See also:

11 Sep 00 | Business
Oil price bounces back
11 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Byers denies fuel tax to blame
11 Sep 00 | Scotland
Fuel protest traffic chaos
31 Aug 00 | Business
Oil markets explained
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