Brexit certain to see food prices rise unless Theresa May gets EU trade deal, warn peers

‘Will we have a situation where high quality, local produce is available for those who can afford it, with cheaper food imported for those on lower incomes?’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 10 May 2018 08:53 BST
What could the sticking points be in the Brexit trade deal?

Shoppers have been warned that food prices are certain to rise after Brexit, unless Theresa May achieves the favourable free trade deal she has promised with the EU.

It is “inconceivable” that there will be no impact on EU produce, which makes up 30 per cent of the UK’s food imports, an inquiry by a House of Lords committee found.

Even in the UK’s “best case scenario” – of no tariffs and few customs barriers – international rules would require more borders checks, clogging up British ports, it warned.

And, if there is a “no deal” Brexit, grocery costs would soar, businesses could go bust and all-year round supplies will be at risk, the Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, said.

Lord Teverson, the committee’s chairman, accused ministers of being in denial about the dangers, saying: “There was a striking contrast between government confidence and industry concerns.

“The minister may not be worried about the potential for Brexit to impact on the price and availability of food, but the representatives of the food and farming industry, importers, port authorities and consumer organisations were vocal in their concerns.”

The committee also highlighted the danger of a two-tier effect, with only wealthier shoppers able to afford more expensive home-grown goods.

“Will we have a situation where high quality, local produce is available for those who can afford it, with cheaper food imported for those on lower incomes?” Lord Teverson asked.

Fruit and vegetables, in particular, could become more expensive, with 40 per cent of vegetables and 37 per cent of fruit sold in the UK coming from the EU, the peers said.

Brexit-backing MPs have hailed leaving the EU as the chance to cut food prices by removing red tape on UK farmers and cutting tariffs on imports from the rest of the world.

But the cross-party committee questioned how that aim of cheaper food after Brexit could be squared with maintaining high animal welfare and food safety standards.

Meanwhile, post-Brexit customs arrangements were still mired in confusion, amid a bitter Cabinet split about the model to pursue and the possibility of new border checks.

The report also warned that it will not be possible to increase domestic food production in time to meet any shortfall caused by Brexit.

Half the UK’s food is imported, with 30 per cent from the EU, 11 per cent from countries with EU trade deals and the rest from other countries.

Fewer EU workers could create job opportunities and increase wages for British workers, but the costs may have to be passed on to customers and some businesses “may cease to be viable”.

The report was published on the day that the cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee is expected to discuss agriculture and food production and the no-deal threat.

A government spokeswoman said: “Food prices depend on a range of factors, including commodity prices, currency exchange rates, and oil prices – this will continue to be the case when we leave the EU.

“But we also want to ensure consumers have access to a wide range of food, which is why we are considering how we best manage border checks and controls when we leave the EU without impacting the smooth flow of trade.”

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