Top retailers have warned there could be a severe disruption to the UK’s supply of food if Theresa May fails to secure a deal for Brexit.
A letter to MPs warning about the dangers of a no-deal has been signed by senior executives from Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Lidl, Waitrose, The Co-op, Costcutter, McDonald’s, KFC and Pret A Manger.
They say that almost a third of food eaten in the UK comes from the EU and any delays at ports caused by a no-deal would directly affect their supply.
Around 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit is imported from the EU in spring and the perishable goods need to be moved quickly.
But delays at ports caused by a no-deal might mean the food will perish before it can be consumed.
The letter said: ‘Even if the UK Government does not undertake checks on products at the border, there will still be major disruption at Calais as the French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU.’
It added that freight trade between France and the UK could fall by as much as 87% as a result of a no-deal.
The retailers warned that there was limited scope to address the challenges of a no-deal Brexit because of the inability to stockpile goods with a short shelf life.
All frozen and chilled storage is already in use, they said, and ‘even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit’.
The retailers also warned that it could be ‘difficult to restock stores if the supply chain is disrupted’ and added they are concerned their customers will be the first to experience the realities of a no-deal.
The letter said: ‘We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.
The UK is set to leave the European Union on March 29, with or without a deal.
But shortages that month could be ‘more acute’ because of the seasonal nature of domestic food production.
Leaving the customs union would also have an impact as currently only around 10% of food imports are subject to tariffs.
Reverting to World Trade Organisation rules would ‘greatly increase import costs, which could in turn put upward pressure on food prices’.
The bosses – along with the chief executive and chairman of industry body the British Retail Consortium – urged MPs to ‘work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no-deal Brexit’.
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: The UK has a high level of food security built upon a diverse range of sources, including strong domestic production and imports from other countries.
‘This will continue to be the case whether we leave the EU with or without a deal.
‘The Government has well-established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption – and we are using these to support preparations for leaving the EU.’
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