Brexit: UK faces unprecedented food crisis if no trade deal secured with EU, says Sainsbury's boss

‘Closing the borders for a few days to free movement of food would result in food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen,’ Mike Coupe says

Ben Chapman
Friday 02 March 2018 12:03
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‘Anything that puts a barrier in [food distribution] flow will increase the cost and reduce the freshness,’ Mr Coupe said
‘Anything that puts a barrier in [food distribution] flow will increase the cost and reduce the freshness,’ Mr Coupe said

The UK faces an unprecedented food crisis if it leaves the EU without a trade deal, the boss of the country’s second-largest supermarket has warned.

“The impact of closing the borders for a few days to the free movement of food would result in a food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen,” Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe told Bloomberg.

“It’s inconceivable to me that there won’t be a solution found.”

​Sainsbury’s, which trails only Tesco among UK supermarkets in terms of sales, would have to increase prices if any barriers to imports were introduced after Brexit, Mr Coupe said.

“At the moment we put tomatoes on lorries in southern Spain, they drive for 24 hours and arrive directly in our distribution centres unencumbered,” Mr Coupe said.

“Anything that puts a barrier in that flow will increase the cost and reduce the freshness.”

Business groups have warned that even short delays at ports and borders risk causing huge problems in supply chains which sprawl all across the Continent.

Mr Coupe’s warning comes as the likelihood of no deal being agreed between the EU and the UK appeared to increase this week.

Theresa May told the House of Commons on Wednesday that no prime minister could agree to the draft withdrawal agreement drawn up by the European Commission.

The Prime Minister said that the text – which proposes a “common regulatory area” between the EU and Northern Ireland – would “threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK”.

Food is among the most crucial of all sectors that could potentially be damaged by Brexit. Members of a House of Lords committee heard last month that Britain’s departure from the EU risks increasing food prices, lowering safety and welfare standards, causing food shortages and worsening a public health crisis in the UK.

The country already has a “catastrophic” £22.5bn trade deficit in food, Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy at City University told the Lords EU energy and environment sub-committee.

A long-term decline in Britain’s self-sufficiency has left the food system in a “fragile” state, he said, adding that it was “extraordinary” that the prospect of Brexit had not sparked a debate about food security.

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