The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has requested a meeting with government officials “at the earliest possible opportunity” as fears over what a no-deal Brexit could mean for the food supply chain mount.
Both the FDF and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have spoken of the importance of ensuring that frictionless trade continues after Britain leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the FDF, highlighted food shortages, price surges and stockpiling in the wake of a no-deal Brexit as sources of major concern. It was also revealed that he has written to to Brexit minister Dominic Raab requesting an urgent meeting with industry leaders.
Wright said: “We enjoy positive relationships with a number of government departments key to our industry. We would welcome the chance to speak with Mr Raab at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Wright had told the i newspaper that pressure on food supplies could be the “stuff of nightmares”, and added that the body has not yet had formal discussions with government officials.
He added that, while he was sure the government had developed an understanding of the workings of the food chain, it was “not possible really for it to understand them as well as the people who actually operate them.”
The BRC has previously rubbished discussions of stockpiling food in advance of Britain’s EU exit date. In a statement it said: “Our food supply chains are extremely fragile and this is yet further demonstration of the need for an agreement on the backstop to ensure frictionless trade is maintained after the 29 March 2019.”
Responding to the FDF’s calls for a meeting, Dominic Watkins, head of food group at law firm DWF, said that industries reliant on the food supply chain urgently need the government to draw up a workable position from which they can make plans.
Watkins said: “One-third of our food supply chain is at risk of extensive delays, which will impact the quality of our foods under a no-deal Brexit scenario. This is a substantial issue that affects the whole sector, and a solution is desperately needed.
“With substantial delays at borders becoming an increasingly realistic prospect, our perishable food’s just-in-time supply chain is at risk of becoming just-too-late. This will grind both retail and manufacturing to a halt and drive up prices. Empty shelves and increased prices are fast moving from a very real possibility to a certainty of a no-deal Brexit.
“Against a backdrop of regulatory equivalence with the EU, and it being a largest and closed food trading partner, it is natural for the government to consider relaxing the borders and ‘wave’ EU food through as a quick solution. After all, the EU’s standards were our standards until Brexit and this is just a form of mutual recognition which forms the heart of our current relationship with the EU and other free trade deals. This is, however, a simplistic viewpoint, and there is substantial risk inherent with the lack of control in opening the borders in this way which would be ripe for abuse and this should worry us all.”
A government spokesperson said: “The UK has an excellent level of food security, built on access to a range of sources, including strong domestic production and imports from third countries. This will continue to be the case as we leave the EU.
“While we are making sensible preparations for all eventualities as we leave the EU, there are no plans to stockpile food. Whether we negotiate a deal or not, this will not be necessary.
“The government has well-established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption – and we will be using these to support preparations for leaving the EU. Consumers will continue to have access to a range of different products.”