Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has dismissed a warning from Tesco chairman John Allan that Brexit could result in food shortages and price rises, saying he is “not concerned” by their claims.
The chairman warned that failure to reach a deal with the European Union could see shoppers turning to buying UK-produced items when imported goods jump in price due to import taxes.
He said that import taxes could push the price of brie cheese up by 40% and may mean British shoppers opt for cheddar instead.
The supermarket leader warned food bills could climb by 5% on average in the event of a no-deal scenario, with specific products likely to increase significantly more.
Speaking to Bloomberg, he said: “Those almost inevitably are going to lead to higher prices, and I think if we go out on a no-deal basis that is unavoidable.”
He warned there is likely to be disruption during the transition period which could impact the transport of some foods and lead to empty shelves.
He later explained: “We may see some shortages of fresh foods, particularly short-life fresh foods.
“I think that will only be for a limited period, perhaps a month or two, before we get back to normal.
“I don’t think there is any reason at all for any consumer to panic or panic-buy at the moment.
“There is still going to be plenty of food in the UK – there may just be slightly restricted choice for a period of time.”
But Raab said he is “not concerned” about potential food price rises or shortages if the government fails to strike a trade deal.
He told the BBC Breakfast that tariffs – which will be levied on imports from the EU if there is no free trade deal – played only a small part in the cost of food.
He said Allan’s warning of a rise of up to 5% on a shopping basket is not a figure the government recognises and tariffs will be a “very minor proportion” of food prices.
“Of all the things that will be a challenge, I am not concerned about either supermarket cupboards running bare or the cost of food prices,” he said.
“Equally, there will be some bumps along the road if we don’t get a free trade deal, that’s the inevitable consequence of change.
“But we will be well braced and well prepared to deal with those, and we are going to make a success of leaving the transition period, come what may.”
His comments shocked viewers who watched the exchange.
“How can you say you’re concerned about supermarkets stockpiling?” asked George David Zan.
“This could get a lot of replay next year – though I sincerely hope not”, commented Mike Buckley. “Stark contrast between a retailer responsibly stockpiling and raising the alarm, and the government minister blithely repeating the Project Fear lines of the past.”
“With the food bank usage increasing, this just goes to show how out of touch he is!” said one.
“I bet he doesn’t even know how much a pint of milk is,” noted another.