The threat of a strike by fuel tanker drivers in a dispute over terms and conditions and safety standards has edged a step closer after they voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action.
Around 2,000 members of Unite at seven companies were balloted for the first national campaign of action for over a decade, with those at five firms backing walkouts.
The union said strikes were supported by an average of 69% in the five firms, which deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages as well as supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's.
The Government said it had "robust resilience and contingency plans" to deal with a strike and had already started to put these in place to minimise any disruption to the public.
One of the firms affected - Hoyer - revealed it had already started training Army personnel to drive fuel tankers if strikes go ahead.
Unite pulled back from naming strike dates, raising the prospect of talks in the next few days to try to resolve the dispute and avert industrial action. The union will have to give seven days' notice of walkouts and has not ruled out the prospect of action over the Easter weekend, the first major holiday getaway of the year.
Unite drivers supply fuel to 90% of the UK's forecourts and the union said a strike could close thousands of petrol stations.
Diana Holland, Unite's assistant general secretary, said: "These votes send a clear message throughout the industry and should prompt all the major companies to get around the table to establish minimum standards."
A Hoyer spokesman said: "We are dismayed at the outcome of the Unite ballot for industrial action involving 650 drivers on our fuels contracts. Particularly as only 215 drivers out of the 650 voted for strike action and we therefore believe that this action is being driven by a small disaffected group of employees."
Energy Secretary Edward Davey said: "The Unite ballot result is disappointing. The Government is strongly of the view that strike action is wrong and unnecessary. The union should be getting round the negotiating table, not planning to disrupt the lives of millions of people across Britain."