LONDON - Britain said on Thursday that a gas station crisis caused by an acute shortage of truck drivers was back under control but many pumps remained closed in London leaving motorists searching or queuing for hours to fill their tanks.

In a chaotic week where fights broke out at gas stations and people filled up old water bottles with gasoline, British ministers have repeatedly said the crisis is easing though they ordered soldiers on Wednesday to start driving fuel tankers.

"That crisis is now absolutely something which is back under control," Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said.

Reuters reporters visited seven petrol stations in London and surrounding areas on Thursday. Two were open. A line of dozens of drivers snaked back from one of the open stations with staff attempting to direct the queue.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent retailers who account for about two-thirds of all the 8,380 UK filling stations, said on Wednesday that 27% of members reported being out of fuel and it expected the situation to further improve in the next 24 hours.

The gas station crisis has provoked scorn in some other European capitals with senior politicians suggesting that the trucker shortage was a clear consequence of the 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union.

British ministers have repeatedly denied Brexit played a role, though tens of thousands of EU truckers left during the Brexit maelstrom, and have cited the COVID lockdowns which prevented tens of thousands of trucker tests.

Asked if Britain would be in a better position had it not left the single market, Clarke said: "I really don't accept that."

"The idea that this is about Brexit is to try and take us back into what is really I'm afraid quite a negative conversation around opportunities foregone," he said.

"If you look at the situation in Germany, if you look at the situation in Poland, if you look at the situation in France, they share these problems too," he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Kylie MacLellan; writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Paul Sandle and Jane Merriman) ((; 07825218698;))