dover port lorries

Without a comprehensive EU-UK trade deal, we can expect to see our food imports go up in price by a lot

Pity the poor hauliers facing chaos at British ports come January, as Britain waves farewell to the EU club.

Pity also the poor retailers and, in particular, those who are involved in importing foodstuffs, for their Christmas break is unlikely to be a restful one.

And, of course, pity the poor consumers who, barring a last-minute miracle trade deal, will all be even poorer, as food prices are pushed up by our new trading status – or rather, lack of status – with the EU.

And those food prices will go up, for a host of reasons.

Tariffs – or food taxes, to be clear – of course, will be a major driver of food price inflation. Without a comprehensive EU-UK trade deal, we can expect to see our food imports go up by a lot.

The British Retail Consortium estimates the average rise will be 20% but, depending on the commodity, rises could be as high as 60%.

Ambient foods, such as tomato-based products, canned fish, pasta and olive oil, will take a hit and, as those are the sorts of items used in emergency food parcels, that’s going to be particularly cruel.

The Affordable Food Deal campaign has calculated dried pasta will rise by around 22%, and olive oil by 30%. Even humble baked beans face a 7% price rise.

Inevitably, other sectors including fresh fruits, dairy and meat products will also be affected.

But there are other inflationary pressures to factor in too. Chief among these is currency fluctuations. Sterling has had a bumpy ride of late and exiting the EU without a trade deal in place is likely to drive the value of the pound down.

As most imports are transacted in US dollars or euros, Britain is going to be able to buy less imported food with each pound.

Of course, major retailers will have hedged their bets on this, but that is not a long-term solution.

A weak pound may be good for exporters but, if you are already struggling to feed your family, it is disastrous.

And who knows what additional costs are going to accrue as our ports struggle to cope with new rules and restrictions, using software that is not yet ready in lorry parks that are not yet built?

Truckers queueing in lorry parks – assuming adequate parking is even available at the UK’s major ports – aren’t just a pollution menace.

While supply chains will have to adapt to any new delays, there’s one thing certain: a lorry driver parked up waiting to clear new customs procedures is wasting time that could be spent on the road.

Either truckers and haulage companies will have to accept a cut in earnings, or the additional costs will have to be passed on.

Retail is a pretty cut-throat business in the UK, and margins are limited. While the major players may well try to absorb at least some costs – and put even more pressure on suppliers – shareholders will ultimately force their hand.

And that is going to affect every single one of us. As things stand, low inflation rates have been masking food price rises.

August’s figures showed foodstuffs hovering around 0% inflation but that followed a summer of rising prices – May saw the highest food price inflation since 2012 and ambient food prices rose by between two and three times the rate of inflation in June and July.

As an added storm on the horizon, UK demand for European food is highest in January, so any new regulations will crash in just as the system is under maximum pressure.

Even with a comprehensive trade arrangement, prices are likely to rise. But, if the UK and EU can’t agree a deal, then buckle up. Because it’s likely to be a bumpy, and expensive, ride.