Leading retailers warned today a no-deal Brexit would cause 'significant disruption' to food supplies because Britain is dependent on the EU for fresh
Leading retailers warned today a no-deal Brexit would cause ‘significant disruption’ to food supplies because Britain is dependent on the EU for fresh produce.
A letter to MPs, signed by bosses from firms including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, The Co-op, Lidl, McDonald’s and KFC, warned about shortages caused by delays at the border and price rises as a result of tariffs.
The firms – used by millions of Britons every day – said the timing of Brexit at the end of March made the situation worse because of when UK crops are harvested.
Retailers including Sainsbury’s warned today a no-deal Brexit would cause ‘significant disruption’ to food supplies because Britain is dependent on the EU for fresh produce
The firms – used by millions of Britons every day – said the timing of Brexit at the end of March made the situation worse because of when UK crops are harvested (pictured is fresh fruit and vegetables at Asda in Harrow)
The findings are based on the Government’s own analysis, which says that up to 87 per cent of cross-Channel freight trade could be stopped, in disruption lasting up to six months.
The grim warning from the British Retail Consortium came as MPs prepared to vote again on Brexit tomorrow night, with different factions pursuing their own plans in Parliament.
The letter said: ‘In March, the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90 per cent of our lettuces, 80 per cent of our tomatoes and 70 per cent of our soft fruit is sourced from the EU at that time of year.
The supermarket and restaurant chain bosses said: ‘We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit.
Theresa May (pictured returning to Downing Street today) is desperately struggling to hold her Cabinet together and fend off a Remainer bid to force a Brexit delay in crunch Commons votes
‘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.
‘We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers.’
‘Thousands may die’ from food price hike
No Deal Brexit will lead to thousands of deaths by driving up the price of fruit and vegetables, experts said.
Higher prices will mean intake of fruit and vegetables could drop by 11 per cent, according to researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Liverpool.
This would lead to more than 12,000 extra deaths from heart attacks and strokes from 2021 to 2030, they estimate.
‘The impact of Brexit will reach far beyond the economy and may affect people’s risk of disease,’ wrote co-author Prof Christopher Millett in the BMJ Open medical journal.
But economist Edgar Miller described the study as ‘Project Fear at its very worst’.
The retailers added: ‘As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK.
‘Even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit.’
Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, a supporter of the anti Brexit Best for Britain campaign, said: ‘This shows up the lies of Brexiteers who promised lower food prices and greater prosperity after Brexit. Now we’re seeing study after study saying food prices will rise and our top supermarkets worried about empty shelves.
‘Enough is enough. This letter makes a stark observation that food security is at risk.
‘At a time when food bank usage stands at an all-time high, it’s not on that the Prime Minister has so far refused to take away the no deal threat in an attempt to boost support for her awful deal. Parliament must act now to block the government’s reckless blackmail.’
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said medicines will be prioritised over food.
He said medicines ‘should get a priority’ because ‘the proportion [of food] that is imported is much smaller than for medicines’.
Speaking at a hearing on the future of the Health Service, he said half of medicines ‘have some touch point with the EU and therefore need a plan … in the event of significant disruptions at the border’.
Mr Hancock said the pharmaceutical industry was rising to the challenge of ensuring supplies of 12,000 different medicines are not disrupted.
But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, accused the Government of playing ‘Russian roulette’ with the national interest.
Senior Tory MPs threw Theresa May an 11th hour lifeline today by backing an amendment endorsing her Brexit plan – as long as she can overhaul the Irish border backstop.
Former ministers Grant Shapps and Nick Boles are among those who have signed up to the proposal, while Boris Johnson also hinted he might get on board.
Mrs May seems to be pinning her hopes on the amendment tabled by 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, which would demand a rewriting of the controversial backstop.
But her hopes were already fading this afternoon as Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin said he would not vote for the plan because ‘it’s deliberately vague because it’s meant to mean different things to different people’.
Downing Street has so far refused to reveal its plans in the vote, insisting it will not show its hand until Speaker John Bercow chooses which amendments will be voted on tomorrow night.
The amendments and outcomes
Commons is expected to vote tomorrow on amendments including Yvette Cooper’s. The Labour MP is pictured on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday
YVETTE COOPER’S PLAN TO DELAY BREXIT IF THERE IS NOT A DEAL
WHAT IT DOES: Forces ministers to extend Article 50 beyond March 29 to stop No Deal.
WHOSE PLAN? Labour’s Yvette Cooper, former Tory ministers Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin.
HOW IT WORKS: Ministers lose the power to decide what is debated on February 5, which passes to backbench MPs. Miss Cooper proposes a law forcing Mrs May to ask for a delay on Brexit if No Deal is agreed by February 26.
COULD IT SUCCEED? With enough votes from Tory rebels, yes.
DOMINIC GRIEVE’S PLAN TO HAND POWER TO MPS
WHAT IT DOES: Give control over Parliamentary business to MPs.
WHOSE PLAN? Dominic Grieve QC, former attorney general and ardent Remainer, and MPs who want a second referendum.
HOW IT WORKS: Government loses power over the Commons every Tuesday from February 12 to March 26 so backbench MPs could vote on Brexit. Could delay Article 50 or change the deal to include a customs union or second referendum.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Could pass with the support of pro-Remain Tories, Labour backing.
SIR GRAHAM BRADY’S PLAN TO FIX THE BACKSTOP BY DEMANDING CHANGES FROM BRUSSELS
WHAT IT DOES: Proposes replacing the Northern Ireland backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’ to avoid a hard border. Also supports leaving with a deal.
WHOSE PLAN? Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee.
HOW IT WORKS: Allows Mrs May to go to Brussels and say the EU must make concessions on the backstop or get rid of it.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Only if selected by Speaker Bercow – who could ignore it.
DAME CAROLINE SPELMAN’S PLAN TO RULE OUT NO DEAL
WHAT IT DOES: Stops the UK leaving without a deal.
WHOSE PLAN: Former Tory Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Jack Dromey.
HOW IT WORKS?
Rejects No Deal.
COULD IT SUCCEED? Yes, if enough Tory rebels vote in favour.
JEREMY CORBYN’S PLAN TO FUDGE THE VOTE BY DEMANDING CHANGE BUT HINTING AT A REFERENDUM
WHAT IT DOES: Demands changes to the deal and hints at a second referendum.
WHOSE PLAN? Corbyn, Labour frontbench.
HOW IT WORKS: Ministers must let Parliament discuss No Deal, and proposes staying in a permanent customs union. If that fails, it suggests a second referendum.
COULD IT SUCCEED?Highly unlikely, because it won’t win support from Tory rebels.
Supermarkets no deal warning to MPs in full
Dear Member of Parliament,
On behalf of our businesses and the wider food industry we want to highlight to you the challenges for retailers and the consequences for millions of UK consumers of leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of March. While we have been working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains and we fear significant disruption in the short term as a result if there is no Brexit deal. We wanted to share with you some practical examples of the challenges we are facing.
Our supply chains are closely linked to Europe – nearly one third of the food we eat in the UK comes from the EU. In March the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90% of our lettuces, 80% of our tomatoes and 70% of our soft fruit is sourced from the EU at that time of year. 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 at Calais as the French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU, which will lead to long delays; Government data suggest freight trade between Calais and Dover may reduce by 87% against current levels as a result. For consumers, this will reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores.
We are also extremely concerned about the impact of tariffs. Only around 10% 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. The UK could set import tariffs at zero but that would have a devastating impact on our own farmers, a key part of our supply chains.
Our ability to mitigate these risks is limited. As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK. Even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit. Retailers typically store no more than two weeks’ inventory and it becomes difficult to restock stores if the supply chain is disrupted. We are also attempting to find alternative supply routes but there are limited options and not enough ferries, so this could only replace a fraction of the current capacity.
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.
We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers.
Mike Coupe Chief Executive J Sainsbury plc, Roger Burnley Chief Executive Asda (Stores) Ltd, Steve Rowe Chief Executive Marks & Spencer plc, Jo Whitfield Retail Chief Executive The Co-op, Rob Collins Managing Director Waitrose, Darcy Willson-Rymer Chief Executive Costcutter Supermarkets, Paula MacKenzie CEO KFC UK&I, Clive Schlee Chief Executive Pret A Manger, Christian Härtnagel Chief Executive Lidl, Richard Pennycook Chairman British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson Chief Executive British Retail Consortium, and Paul Pomroy Chief Executive McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd