‘We’re going to be absolutely fine’: Government tells public not to panic buy ahead of possible no-deal Brexit

‘I would say to everyone just do your normal shopping,’ says business secretary

Alok Sharma advises public not to panic buy ahead of possible no-deal Brexit

One of Boris Johnson’s senior cabinet ministers has warned the public not to stockpile food ahead of Brexit – but admitted prices will rise at the supermarket if talks with the EU fail to reach a trade deal.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said people should stick to their “normal shopping” in the days ahead and claimed: “We are going to be absolutely fine.”

Supermarkets have already warned that average food prices could rise by up to 5 per cent if tariffs hit imports from 1 January – while some luxury items could see price hikes of up to 40 per cent.

“I wouldn’t advise people to stockpile … I think if you look overall I think we are talking less than 2 per cent [price rise] in terms of potential impact. Obviously there will be certain products where it may be a little bit more,” Mr Sharma told the BBC.

“I’m very confident that actually the supply chains will still be in place. I would say to everyone just do your normal shopping as you would do, and I think we will find we are going to be absolutely fine,” he told Sky News.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has also warned against panic buying, and said the major retailers were increasing stocks to ensure a “sufficient supply of essential products”. 

However, the trade body did warn of potential disruption to fresh produce “which cannot be stored for long periods by either retailers or consumers”.

The BRC’s chief executive Helen Dickinson also said a no-deal outcome would mean supermarkets passing on more than £3bn in food tariffs to their customers. “Retailers would have no choice but to pass on some of these additional costs to their customers, who would see higher prices filter through during 2021,” said Ms Dickinson.

Ministers have claimed government modelling suggests the impact of no-deal tariffs on consumer food prices could be less than 2 per cent, but Tesco has said the average food bill could rise by 5 per cent.

The London School of Economics has estimated that a trade agreement would see an average price rise of 4.7 per cent for food products imported from the EU, and under a no-deal Brexit they would rise by 12.5 per cent.

Mr Sharma insisted the government was confident that supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would not be disrupted if there was a no-deal Brexit, although he refused to set out what contingency plans were in place.

He told the BBC that was partly due to security concerns around the supply of the vaccine, which is made in Belgium. “We have put in place arrangements to make sure that the distribution of vaccines is not in any way disrupted,” he told the BBC, but added: “I’m not going to go into the detail of that.”

Mr Sharma acknowledged that supplies could be flown in and added: “I’m confident that as things stand these vaccines will continue to flow into the UK.”

Reports suggest the RAF could be used to airlift supplies if there is chaos at ports following the end of the Brexit transition period.

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