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Food retailers dismiss talk of stockpiling in case of ‘No Deal’ Brexit

Retailers have dismissed suggestions that there have been discussions about the stockpiling of food in anticipation of the UK crashing out of the EU in March without a trade deal.

Dominic Raab, the new Brexit secretary, said earlier this week that he would ensure the UK had “adequate food supplies” in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario.

He did not give details of the plans at the Brexit select committee hearing but implied it was the responsibility of the food industry, saying: “It would be wrong to describe it as the government doing the stockpiling.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) responded by saying the stockpiling of food was “not a practical response” to a ‘no deal’ on Brexit and the industry had not been approached by government to begin planning for this.

It added: “Retailers do not have the facilities to house stockpiled goods and in the case of fresh produce, it is simply not possible to do so. Our food supply chains are extremely fragile and this is yet further demonstration of the need for an agreement on the backstop to ensure frictionless trade is maintained after the 29 March 2019.”

Meanwhile, an unnamed senior executive at a “large British supermarket chain” told the Financial Times that the government had not talked to the industry about maintaining food supplies and accused ministers of misunderstanding how supply chains function.

“It’s ridiculous,” the executive said. “It’s scary because it shows how far the government is from the reality of how things work. It’s genuinely worrying.”

About 40% of the food Britain consumes is imported, the vast majority of it comes from or via the EU. Lord Mark Price, the former boss of Waitrose warned this week that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would push up the cost of fresh products.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “What you will see is, rather than a pinch on supply – although that is highly likely – a pretty significant increase in the cost of fruit and veg, the cost of meat and the cost of dairy products.”

He highlighted that the UK only produces about 25% of the fruit and vegetables it consumes and, while the winter season for imports from places like South America and New Zealand could be extended slightly to cover the UK’s EU departure, supermarkets would have to find new supply routes.

“They may think about air freight, they may think about shipping. But all these things are going to add cost and they are going to add to the cost of a tariff that will be applied because the EU has pretty penal tariffs on food, to protect European farmers.”




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