Industry leaders say the government’s admission that the UK faces the possibility of fresh food shortages, soaring prices and two-day delays at the ports has confirmed their worst fears over a no-deal Brexit.
Yesterday ministers published the findings of Operation Yellowhammer, having been being forced to make the document public after a vote by MPs outraged at secrecy over no-deal preparations.
The document, which claims it is based on ‘reasonable worst case planning assumptions’, says the nation faces a shortage of fresh food as well as a threat to ‘critical dependencies’ for the food supply chain, including key ingredients, chemicals and packaging.
‘In combination these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could hit vulnerable groups,’ it says.
The document also confirms retailer warnings that a no-deal Brexit on 31 of October would come at the worst possible time for the industry.
’The UK growing season will have come to an end and the food chain will be under increased pressure at the time of the year due to preparations for Xmas, which is the busiest time of the year for food retailers. Government will not be able to fully anticipate all potential impact to the agri-food supply chain.
‘There is a risk that panic buying will exacerbate food supply disruption.’
FDF CEO Ian Wright said: “It is as the Food & Drink Federation have been saying for the best part of two years now - it lays bare the grisly crisis facing the UK’s food and drink supply chain in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
“Shoppers have rightly come to expect a wide range of products on supermarket shelves. In a no-deal Brexit scenario there would be significant and adverse changes to product availability, and random shortages.
“Government must be up-front about the chaos a no-deal Brexit would bring.”
As leaked to the Sunday Times, the document, dated August, also reveals the extent to which government advisers fear chaos at Dover and Calais will hit food and drink deliveries. It warns the worst disruption will last for about three months.
The newspaper has claimed the document it saw was marked ‘base case scenario’ rather than worst case.
It warned HGVs could face ‘maximum delays of 1.5-2.5’ days while the flow of cross-Channel goods could be reduced to 40% of current rates on day one, with ‘significant disruption lasting up to six months’.
The document says there could be fuel shortages in the south east of England due to traffic queues in Kent, particularly if the Dartford crossing is blocked.
Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said the document confirmed the worst fears of the industry.
“The Yellowhammer document confirms what retailers have been saying for the last three years - fresh food availability will decrease, consumer choice will decrease, and prices will rise. This isn’t good for the British public and this isn’t good for British retailers.
“A no-deal Brexit in November represents the worst possible timing for the retail industry and the consumers it serves. Warehousing availability will be limited as retailers prepare for Black Friday and Christmas, many fresh fruit & vegetables will be out of season in the UK, and imports will be hampered by disruption through the Channel Straits that could reduce flow by up to 60% for up to three months.
“While retailers are doing all they can to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, it is impossible to completely mitigate the negative impact it would have - something the government itself has acknowledged. The fact remains that a damaging, no-deal Brexit is in no one’s interests and it is vital that a solution is found, and fast, that ensures frictionless tariff-free trade with the EU after our departure.”