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Fuel protests: What you need to know about the protesters blocking roads

Roads across the country have been blocked by fuel protests. But who are the protesters, and what do they want?

fuel protest

A file image of the M4, which is one of the roads targeted by today's fuel protests. Image: Ben Salter/flickr

Roads have been closed and traffic jams growing as fuel protests hit the highways, with drivers angry about rising petrol prices.

The protesters have blocked the Severn Bridge, while simultaneous protests are taking place in Essex, Yorkshire, and elsewhere. The “go-slow” protests have led police to warn of “serious disruption throughout the day”.

Police have arrested protesters for driving slower than 30mph, with around 100 police officers present on the Prince of Wales bridge.

And the group has warned they are “likely to get more frequent in the coming months”. But who are the protesters? And what do they want?

What do the fuel protesters want?

Fair Fuel UK, the group behind the protests, says prices at the pump have risen much faster than wholesale fuel prices. It argues that, had a fall in wholesale prices been passed on to motorists, petrol would cost around 170p per litre, rather than 191p.

It wants to stop the increase in fuel prices, with a fuel duty cut of at least 20p per litre, and introduce a Pump Pricing Watchdog called “PumpWatch”.

Howard Cox, founder of the FairFuelUK campaign, said: “These are not just demonstrations against the record excruciatingly high petrol and diesel prices that rise each and every day.

“They are also about the sickening chronic manipulation of pump prices and the complete lack of scrutiny by our out of touch government, in allowing unchecked petrol and diesel profiteering to run rife.”

Who are the group behind the fuel protests?

FairFuel UK was founded by former Top Gear presenter Quentin Wilson and is funded by “key backer” the Road Haulage Association, and from donations.

The group believes increases in fuel taxes are based on a “good intentioned but flawed ‘green’ agenda” and say new taxes “will not improve air quality, but simply hit consumers and the economy”. It claims to have saved motorists over £160bn in planned tax hikes.

It has the backing of a host of Conservative MPs, including Robert Halfon and Steve Baker.

FairFuel UK is also linked to the All Party Parliamentary Group for UK Motorists and UK Hauliers, which counts Labour MP Graham Stringer and DUP MP Sammy Wilson among its members.

The group says it achieves its aims through “constructive and objective campaigning”.

It has also said it is “up against” Extinction Rebellion, who it describes as “fanatical”. Co-founder Howard Cox has said the public needed to hear “both sides of the climate change argument”.

Extinction Rebellion offshoot Insulate Britain has expressed its support for the fuel protests, saying: “Ordinary people are being made to pay more and more whilst oil companies get richer and our government helps them to do it.”

Hang on, aren’t fuel protests a French thing?

Perhaps the most famous recent example of fuel protests are the gilets jaunes in France. Protesters wearing yellow jackets came together in November 2018 to protest a planned rise in fuel taxes.

That movement became a broader protest against the French government, with three million people estimated to have taken part to date.

But we’ve seen fuel protests in the UK before. In 2000, rising fuel prices led to protests as farmers and lorry drivers blockaded oil refineries.

With prices increasing this year, some have warned that it was only a matter of time until similar protests.

Economist James Meadway, a former advisor to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, wrote in March: “To many ordinary Britons, it is clear that when the most lucrative industries in the country are gas and electricity distribution, there should be a zero-tolerance approach to profiteering.

“If official politics can’t deliver that, unofficial politics must step in. How long before a British gilets jaunes appears?”

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