UK lobby group the British Retail Consortium has warned Theresa May that a failure to reach a Brexit deal with the EU could lead to “food rotting at ports”, a “dramatic” impact on shoppers, and “devastation” for small retailers.
In a letter to the prime minister and to the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, published on Thursday, the BRC cited government figures in noting that 50,000 tonnes of food from the EU passes through UK ports each day. Half of British food is imported, it said, while 60 per cent comes from the EU. It argues that a no-deal Brexit could raise food and drink prices by nearly one-third as a result of non-tariff barriers alone.
Goods can currently enter the UK with minimal delay, which allows for truly frictionless trade. This means that salad leaves, for example, can be loaded onto lorries in Spain on a Monday, delivered to stores in the UK on a Thursday, and still have 5 days’ shelf life.
But this supply chain is fragile. Failure to reach a deal — the cliff edge scenario — will mean new border controls and multiple ‘non-tariff barriers’, through regulatory checks, that will create delays, waste and failed deliveries.
The consequences of this will be dramatic for UK consumers. It is likely that we will see food rotting at ports, reducing the choice and quality of what is available to consumers.
The plea from the BRC to avoid a no-deal Brexit “at all costs” is not the first from the group; it has previously warned of “gaps on shelves” in this scenario.
However, it may resonate more strongly as it comes at the same time major UK employers are warning of potentially damaging hits to their British business from Brexit. Jaguar Land Rover, which employs 40,000 in the UK said this week that it needs more certainty on the way forward and that Brexit could make it unprofitable to remain in the country. Both Airbus and BMW have said they may have to scale back in the UK or even leave.