Major supermarkets warn of soaring prices and fresh food halt under no-deal Brexit

Posted On: 
28th January 2019

Prices will soar and border delays will halt fresh food imports following the "shock" of a no-deal Brexit, Britain’s major supermarkets have warned.

Sainsbury's and Lidl bosses are among those to have signed the letter
Credit: 
PA Images

In a joint-letter to MPs, the country’s largest food retailers say they are "extremely concerned" at the prospect of tariffs being imposed if the UK ends up trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

Asda, Marks & Spencer’s, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Co-op and Waitrose are among the signatories to the letter, which has also been backed by KFC, McDonald's and Starbucks.

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They say as it stands just 10% of food imports are subject to tariffs and that prices would rise "greatly" if they had to be imposed.

And even if they decide not to impose tariffs on any goods, the impact would then hit the UK's own farmers, as the price of exports would go up.

Meanwhile a dramatic fall in freight entering from Calais would hold up fresh food deliveries given it is "impossible" to stockpile, while the 'just-in-time' supply chain used for food imports will be "significantly disrupted".

The findings are based on the Government’s own analysis, which says that up to 87% of cross-Channel freight trade could be stopped, in disruption lasting up to six months.

The group add that even if UK ministers allow lorries to proceed unchecked, the French commitment to enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports “will lead to long delays”.

Their letter says that around a third of UK food comes from the European Union, making up some 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit.

"As this produce is fresh and perishable, it needs to be moved quickly from farms to our stores..." the British Retail Consortium letter warns.

Thesupermarkets warn that their ability to mitigate the risks of a no-deal is "limited", although they have worked on contingency plans.

"As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK," they add.

"Even if there were more space it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit."

The letter also calls on MPs to avoid crashing out without a deal or risk "inevitable" pressure on consumers.

The warning comes a day before they are due to vote on how they believe Brexit should proceed, two weeks after Theresa May’s deal was roundly defeated.

Several amendments have been tabled to the Prime Minister’s motion, including calls for no-deal to be ruled out, ahead of her attempt to win further concessions from Brussels in a bid to push ithe deal through the Commons.

"We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no deal Brexit, " the group adds.

"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.

"We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers."

A spokesperson at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) 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.”