Retailers sound alarm on no-deal Brexit food supplies

29 January 2019

Retailers have warned that a no-deal Brexit will result in significant supply chain disruption that could lead to increased prices and less availability of produce.

In a letter to MPs leading retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Marks & Spencer have urged the government to find a solution to prevent a no-deal Brexit, warning of the disruption this would cause to supply chains, severely impacting food supplies.

The letter, also signed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said that currently one third of food comes from the EU and should the UK leave with no-deal, food supplies would be subject to tariffs, driving up food prices for consumers.

The letter said: “We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit. We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.”

While the retailers said they have been working closely with suppliers on contingency plans, it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to supply chains, with the availability of fresh produce such as salad leaves and fruit a point of concern.

The retailers said that while they have been able to stockpile where possible on frozen and chilled goods, stockpiling fresh produce is “impossible” and they are typically only able to store two weeks’ worth.

Businesses warned warehouse space is extremely limited in the UK and just-in-time supply chains could be severely impacted by delays at the border, resulting in less availability and reduced shelf life.

The letter said the French government has already said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports and government data suggests freight trade between Calais and Dover may reduce by almost 90% as a result. There are not enough alternative supply routes such as ferries to meet the capacity, said the retailers.

The letter was also signed by the heads of Co-op, Waitrose, Costcutter, KFC, Pret a Manger, Lidl and McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock has said that medicine “will be prioritised” over food in the event of a no-deal Brexit disrupting supply chains.

Speaking to the health and social care committee, Hancock said Britain gets far more of its medicines from the EU than it does food, with 50% of NHS drugs imported from or having “some touchpoint with the EU”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The fact that the health secretary is forced to make decisions over whether to prioritise medicine over food in the event of a no-deal Brexit is simply astonishing.”

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