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Source: Alamy

Defra and DExEU are urging suppliers to keep preparing for the possibility of a no-deal

Food and drink suppliers will have to “climb the mountain” all over again, as relief at avoiding a Halloween no-deal Brexit turned into anxiety over the general election and its aftermath.

Industry leaders told The Grocer the hard-to-predict poll only added to the uncertainty they were facing. Meanwhile, frustration was “boiling over” among companies who have been asked by the government to continue spending millions on stockpiling.

However, trade bodies warned no amount of exasperation should allow a deal to go through that would have long-term negative implications for the industry.

“Whilst we’re hugely relieved to have avoided a no-deal Brexit this week, there is also huge frustration from companies that they will have to climb the mountain at least one more time,” said a senior source.

“A general election means companies face another six weeks of limbo and the biggest fear is we could end up back at square one.”

Tim Rycroft, COO of the FDF, added: “An election is welcome as an opportunity to break the deadlock that’s enveloped the industry for months now.

“Whilst we hope it may break the deadlock we are also very concerned at elements of the proposed deal, including the issue of where there needs to be regulatory alignment with the EU on food and drink, or, as the government seems to want, where there is to be divergence.”

Retailers and suppliers are urging Defra and the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) for assurance over how far the UK will go to ensure continuing regulatory alignment with the EU on a tide of regulation including areas such as food safety, hygiene, pesticides, animal welfare and labelling, which they claim would maximise the chances of a successful trade deal by the end of the proposed transition period in December 2020.

Meanwhile, Defra and DExEU officials are urging suppliers to carry on preparing for the possibility of a no-deal.

“Wholesalers are looking at the stock they built ahead of 31 October and are deciding which can be held on to in anticipation of the next deadline, and which must be sold through,” said FWD CEO James Bielby.

“31 January will be the fourth no-deal Brexit deadline in 10 months, and as it remains a possibility, the government has asked wholesalers to yet again invest in stock and storage. The investment required ties up cash and limits expansion and innovation, and it’s possible that some will be less enthusiastic about preparing for an eventuality that has already been delayed three times, especially in the busy month of December.”

Bidfood CEO Andrew Selley said: “We will hold our additional stock until we know the outcome of the election.”