Tax Protesters Largely 'Non-Existent' on British Roads

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - Tax protesters in Britain managed to briefly bring traffic along one major road to a halt, but a one-minute stoppage timed during rush hour Wednesday morning caused little disruption around the country, according to a drivers' organization.

A spokeswoman for the Automobile Association said that the group's Roadwatch service, which monitors traffic throughout the country, recorded no backups as a result of the demonstrations.

The anti-tax People's Fuel Lobby group had asked motorists to stop for one minute at 8:30 a.m. to protest the first government fuel tax increase since 2000.

The increase, originally scheduled for April, was postponed due to uncertainty stemming from the war in Iraq.

Critics of the Treasury Department's decision to go through with the hike now have pointed out that the cost of oil on world markets is presently higher than it was in April.

Despite mixed reports, the People's Fuel Lobby claimed victory Wednesday.

"We have had protests in Manchester, London...all over the place," said organizer Andrew Spence. "From the phone calls I have received, it has been an overwhelming success, and the government should be worried," he said.

Local media reports said that traffic was briefly blocked on a road outside the city of Newcastle in northeast England, but the AA spokeswoman said protests were largely "non-existent."

"It doesn't appear that a lot of people knew about it, and at 8:30 a.m., most people were probably concentrating on getting to work," the spokeswoman said. "Anyone stopped in the road would just be an annoyance."

On Wednesday, several retail chains said they would absorb the cost of the tax increase - amounting to more than 10 cents per gallon - rather than pass it along to consumers.

Meanwhile, a trucking industry group issued its own, more conventional protest in the form of a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Road Haulage Association is lobbying for a tax rebate for truckers, saying that a tax rate comparable to the rest of Europe is vital for British industry. More than 70 percent of the cost of fuel in Britain is made up of taxes, and the country currently has some of the highest tax rates in Europe.

"This (rebate) would signify that the government understands the need for a viable, productive and profitable U.K.-owned road haulage industry," wrote Val Smith, the group's chairwoman.

The government has defended the tax increase - the Treasury points out that the fuel taxes have decreased in real terms by 13 percent since 2001 - and by environmental groups.

"(Treasury Secretary) Gordon Brown is right to put up the fuel tax," said Tony Bosworth, transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth. "He must ignore the protesters and stick to his guns...and consider putting up the tax above the rate of inflation in next year's budget."

Protesters have promised further demonstrations if the price of fuel rises. A gallon of gas costs an average of about $5.80 in Britain, and prices are near the levels reached in September 2000, when a group of truckers, farmers and drivers blockaded refineries in a mass protest.

See Earlier Story:
British Fuel Tax Protesters Call for 60-Second Halt During Rush Hour
(Sept. 30, 2003)

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