Food Shortages Are Expected To Get Worse When New Post-Brexit Paperwork Kicks In
Empty supermarket shelves and restaurants including McDonald's, Nando's, and Greggs running out of popular products have forced a growing labour crisis in the UK's supply chains into sharp focus once again.
The Road Haulage Association estimates the UK currently has a shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers and there’s a dearth of workers in other parts of the supply chain, including processing and packaging.
The recent crisis and its impact on food supplies has predictably led to arguments over how much the UK's exit from the EU is to blame.
Post-Brexit immigration rules mean drivers from the European Union are now unable to easily take up jobs in Britain, but ministers are rejecting calls to relax immigration rules to abate the crisis, despite public support for such a move.
While long term labour shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Brexit has certainly compounded the crisis, and now industry figures are warning that even more severe disruption awaits later this year and beyond when the government introduces checks on goods entering the UK from the EU.
The new paperwork, which will be introduced in stages from 1 October, is expected to result in delays to food and drink coming into the UK from the continent, not unlike the issues that arose getting food out of the country last winter.
The government originally planned to implement the post-Brexit checks earlier this year but postponed their introduction by six months amid warnings that they would unleash chaos on supply chains this summer as the country was emerging from lockdown.
The second stage in January 2022 is a significant source of worry for trade groups, as that's when the government intends to bring in full SPS checks and customs declarations — a significant new wave of form-filling.
"January is going to be the big one," said Tom Southall, Policy Director at the Cold Chain Federation.
"We are expecting similar disruption to what exporters to the EU faced in January, and businesses and consumers should prepare for that.
“It's going to add another layer of disruption to supply chains that is not really being talked about a great deal at the moment."
There is concern that many EU businesses that send goods to the UK will not be sufficiently prepared for the new red tape, and that UK's borders will not be ready either.
This month the Food & Drink Federation wrote to Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost, who oversees the UK's relationship with the EU, and Environment Secretary George Eustice warning “it is inevitable that there will be disruption" to food and drink supplies when the checks are introduced.
The letter, shared with PoliticsHome, urged the government to step up its preparations, saying there are "significant areas of uncertainty where we do not have the information required for our businesses to continue importing the full range of products and ingredients that they require."
It warned that businesses had "little clarity" over the Border Control Posts being constructed by the government to carry out the import checks, and exactly where they will be located.
Failure to fully prepare for the checks, the letter said, would have "very significant implications for our industry, for cross-border trade in essential products and ingredients and ultimately for UK shoppers and consumers."
The looming spectre of post-Brexit bureaucracy is why industry figures say the disruption facing supermarkets and restaurants is not only here to stay, but likely to get worse.
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