Urgent last-minute research into the threat posed to Britain’s food security by a no-deal Brexit continues to be commissioned by the government despite attempts by ministers to play down the dangers.
Michael Gove, the minister in charge of planning for no deal, said at the weekend that “everyone will have the food they need” after the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 October.
Less than three weeks earlier, consultants delivered a report on “food supply chain security” commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Tender documents show Campden BRI, which advises the food and drink sector, was awarded a £34,000 contract last month to identify “the most vulnerable critical inputs” into the production processes of essential food items.
A second objective was “to assess the impact on the UK food and drink manufacturing sector of a reduced supply of those critical inputs in an October no-deal EU exit scenario.”
The firm was given a list of potential at-risk ingredients including milk and dairy products, fish, flour and bread.
It was due to give a presentation on its findings on 16 August, and its final report was meant to examine scenarios including the scope available to switch transportation routes and the implications of some goods’ perishability in the event that they have to be stored.
The Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, a supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, told the Guardian: “This tender document directly contradicts government assurances over food security in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Why would the government commission a firm to examine shortages of food if it was so confident they wouldn’t occur? It makes no sense. This is exactly the sort of issue that desperately requires parliamentary scrutiny.”
Gove was drawn into a row with the food industry for claiming at the weekend there would be no shortages of fresh food if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.
Pressed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on whether there would be shortages of fresh food as a result of a no-deal Brexit, Gove replied: “Everyone will have the food they need.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said it was “categorically untrue” to claim that the supply of fresh food would be unaffected.