Shoppers hit as oil surges on Gulf fears

 
Marion Dakers
HIGH STREET confidence faces a double battering, with the spiralling conflict in Libya pushing oil prices higher and new figures suggesting a 0.4 per cent like-for-like sales slump in February.

Oil prices hit fresh highs again yesterday, coming after reports that fighting in Libya had closed the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega.

Brent crude spot prices in London gained more than two per cent to peak at $118.50 a barrel, close to highs last seen in September 2008, before slipping back to $115.04. US crude hit a 28-month high.

Ministers from countries in the Opec oil cartel are holding talks about increasing production to help cool the runaway rise in fuel prices.

The instability also helped pull the price of copper to its steepest one-day decline in four months.

Nato began round-the-clock air surveillance of Libya yesterday as people on the ground reported further airstrikes by pro-Gaddafi forces.

The military alliance is considering options including a no-fly-zone and helping to enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo, the US ambassador to NATO confirmed, in a move to pile pressure on Gaddafi’s regime to halt the ongoing violence.

Six Gulf nations including Saudi Arabia called for the UN to impose a no-fly-zone yesterday, demanding in a statement that the organisation “take[s] all necessary measures to protect civilians”.

Foreign secretary William Hague confirmed that the UK and other UN members were working “on a contingency basis” on a UN resolution that would allow a no-fly-zone.

Defence ministers are due to consider the options at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

Hague also told Parliament yesterday that a “serious misunderstanding of their role” caused the detention of MI6 officers and SAS soldiers by Libyan rebels, and that he would take full responsibility for the mission.

Meanwhile, the British Retail Council said sales on the high street fell 0.4 per cent in February compared to last year, while total sales growth rose just 1.1 per cent compared with a 4.2 per cent year-on-year rise in January. “Other than the negative figures last April, caused by the annual movement of Easter, this February’s total sales growth is the poorest since May 2009,” said the BRC’s Stephen Robertson.