Supermarkets have urged people not to stockpile food and lavatory rolls in response to fears that a no-deal Brexit would interrupt supplies.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said shops had been working to prevent shortages being caused by disruptions to cross-border trade. However, it said there could be an impact on supplies of some fresh fruit and vegetables because the UK relies heavily on imports from the EU in winter.
Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said: “Retailers are doing everything they can to prepare for all eventualities on January 1 — increasing the stock of tins, toilet rolls and other longer-life products so there will be sufficient supply.
“While no amount of preparation by retailers can entirely prevent disruption there is no need for the public to buy more food than usual as the main impact will be on imported fresh produce, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, which cannot be stored for long periods by either retailers or consumers.”
Other industries have spent years making plans to cope with a no-deal Brexit scenario. Perishable Movements Limited is one of the UK’s few fresh produce importers to have implemented their Brexit-ready plans to ensure their customers continue with little disruption to their supply chain. Measures include a purpose built temperature controlled facility in Spalding, complete with its own Border Control Post and regular chartered flights from East Africa to their facility at Heathrow.
Over the weekend, many media outlets reported on the number of people stockpiling goods ahead of a no-deal Brexit. The government is trying to allay fears by preparing measures to protect farming and other vulnerable sectors and to try to ensure deliveries of perishable goods and vital supplies are maintained.
But is this action too little too late?
UK government on farming:
The government is planning to help sheep farmers who would be among the worst hit by a no-deal Brexit.
The UK exports 30-40 per cent of its lamb and 90 per cent of that goes to the EU. Without a deal, an average tariff of 48 per cent would be imposed on sheep meat. This would kill the export market and result in an oversupply in the UK, driving down prices and potentially making many sheep farms unviable.
A Whitehall source said the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was “looking at specific interventions which will help to mitigate impacts for sheep farmers”.
The source pointed out that farmers in the EU would also face hardship if tariffs were imposed. The UK purchased more than 80 per cent of Denmark’s total exports of bacon and ham, worth £100 million, in 2018.
The National Sheep Association said the two support measures being discussed with Defra were a payment per breeding ewe or a top-up payment for each lamb sold.
The UK government on fish imports:
Trucks carrying fresh and live seafood will be given priority, enabling them to bypass queues in Kent. Lorries carrying day-old produce will get the same priority.
About 80 per cent of crab, lobster and other shellfish landed at UK ports is exported to the EU and is highly perishable.
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said the UK relied mainly on Iceland and Norway for cod and other white fish and these supplies were unlikely to be disrupted.
He said tariffs were only about 8 per cent on unprocessed fish so British exports were likely to maintain their market share because of their good reputation.
The UK government on travel:
A combination of coronavirus restrictions and Brexit means there is now the “real possibility” that Britons will be barred from travelling to the EU once the transition period ends, industry figures warn. The UK will become a “third nation” — with European borders closed to the majority of such countries at present.
Individual states can overrule the EU and permit access to foreigners. However, an estimated 2.5 million Britons face being unable to travel because their passports will be invalid. From January 1 documents will be required to have at least six months’ validity at the time of entry.
Tailbacks are likely on the M20 approach to the Eurotunnel in Folkestone. French authorities have been testing new software at their checkpoint in Kent, which has already caused delays.
Under EU regulations passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled are owed compensation of up to €600. The Department for Transport confirmed the rules will become enshrined in UK law at the end of the transition period.
The UK government on medical supplies:
Drug companies have been increasing stockpiles to reduce the risk of shortages. While there would be no tariffs on medicines, deliveries could be delayed by extra border checks. The government is arranging new routes into the UK, including rapid air freight for urgent supplies.
Perishable Movements Limited remain on hand to support the UK government with temperature controlled transport and storage of critical medical supplies ioncluding the Coronavirus vaccine.