No-deal Brexit puts UK food security at risk, warn Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose and M&S

 Items to disappear from supermarket shelves and prices to increase if UK crashes out of EU, group including McDonald’s Lidl, the Co-op, Pret a Manger and KFC say

Ben Chapman
Monday 28 January 2019 15:05 GMT
Brexit: £17 billion already ripped out of UK public purse due to decision to quit EU, research shows

Leading supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose, are among a host of large retailers to warn MPs that a no-deal Brexit in March will see items disappear from supermarket shelves and could put the UK’s food security at risk.

Nine senior executives signed an open letter to MPs written by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) on Monday urging the government to prevent crashing out of the EU.

A disorderly Brexit and trading under World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms would cause “significant disruption” and push up food prices, the group warned.

Signatories the letter, which also include the bosses of Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s UK, Lidl, Co-op, Pret a Manger and KFC, warned that the timing of Brexit on 29 March made problems more acute.

Nine in 10 lettuces sold by the group of companies at this time of year are imported from the EU, along with 80 per cent of tomatoes and 70 per cent of soft fruit.

The letter stated: “As this produce is fresh and perishable, it needs to be moved quickly from farms to our stores. This complex, ‘just in time’ supply chain will be significantly disrupted in the event of no deal.”

Even if the UK government does not undertake checks on products at the border, there will still be “major disruption” and “long delays” at Calais. The French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU.

The warning comes ahead of a series of crunch votes in parliament on Tuesday, which will include an attempt by a cross-party group of MPs to rule out a no-deal Brexit. The move, led by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Conservative Nick Boles, seeks to delay Brexit until the end of December if a deal cannot be reached with the EU.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said at a Commons committee on Monday that medicines would be prioritised above food in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He conceded there was a “lot more that needs to be done” to safeguard supplies of vital medicines but insisted that his department had enough time.

Just over half of medicines have “some touch point” with the EU and therefore need a plan for significant disruptions at the border, Mr Hancock told the Health and Social Care Committee.

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The BRC letter said freight trade between Dover and Calais could suffer severe disruptions in the event of a no deal.

“For consumers, this will reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores,” the letter said.

The companies said they are also ”extremely concerned” about the impact of tariffs.

“Only around 10 per cent of our food imports, a fraction of the products we sell, is currently subject to tariffs so if the UK were to revert to WTO most-favoured-nation status, as currently envisaged in the no-deal scenario, it would greatly increase import costs, which could in turn put upward pressure on food prices.”

Some hardline backers of Brexit advocate unilaterally slashing the UK’s own tariffs to zero but this would have a “devastating impact” on farmers in this country which are a key part of supermarket’s supply chains, the letter said.

It comes after Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said last week the aerospace giant would have to move some UK operations elsewhere if no deal with the EU is agreed.

Brexit is already costing the UK’s public finances £17bn a year, according to a detailed study released ahead of critical votes in parliament this week.

The amount would be sufficient to pay 10,000 more police to patrol the streets and train nurses to fill every vacancy in England, and still leave enough to cover the UK’s current contribution to the EU’s budget.

The research from the Centre for European Reform estimates the UK economy is 2.3 per cent smaller than it would have been had Britain voted to remain in the EU back in 2016.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK has a high level of food security built upon a diverse range of sources including strong domestic production and imports from other countries. This will continue to be the case whether we leave the EU with or without a deal. The Government has well established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption – and we are using these to support preparations for leaving the EU.”

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