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Hague defends fuel strike warnings

William Hague has defended the Government's handling of the threatened strike by tanker drivers as peace talks between the Unite union and fuel distributors approach later this week.

Britain is better prepared to withstand a strike by tanker drivers because of the actions taken by the Government over the past week, the Foreign Secretary insisted.

He said 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 said.

"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."

Mr Hague's remarks were made as talks were set to begin at the conciliation service Acas this week between fuel distributors and Unite, which represents 2,000 fuel tanker drivers.

The talks come 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.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused ministers of deliberately provoking a confrontation with the unions because they wanted to recreate Margaret Thatcher's clash with the miners in the 1980s.

"They created this petrol crisis," she said. "What they did was they caused a run on the pumps for political reasons because they wanted a 'Thatcher moment'."

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.