Brexit becoming 'stuff of nightmares', food industry boss warns

Food - available until March 2019

A food industry boss has called for a meeting with the government as he warned that Brexit is becoming "the stuff of nightmares".

Food and Drink Federation (FDF) chief executive Ian Wright urged ministers to explain the implications of a no-deal Brexit to businesses in the industry.

He told the i newspaper: "Brexit is shaping up to be the stuff of nightmares and it's essential the government begins to explain a) to businesses and b) the public exactly what the implications of a no-deal Brexit are."

Mr Wright added that, despite government plans to issue notices to advise shoppers and businesses about the "arrangements and difficulties of Brexit", ministers would be "better informed" if they sought the expertise of industry workers.

Speculation around stockpiling has been mounting in recent days following suggestions from ministers that it would be a "sensible" thing for the government to do.

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Mr Wright last week called for a meeting with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab "at the earliest opportunity" in response to comments he made to the Brexit Select Committee, where he suggested it would be up to suppliers to stockpile food in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Raab said it would be "wrong" to suggest that the government would be responsible for amassing large amounts of supplies.

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But he said it would take steps to ensure "adequate food supply".

An FDF spokesman said Mr Raab had not yet responded to Mr Wright.

It emerged yesterday that plans for a permanent solution to Operation Stack, which is activated at the port of Dover to ease cross-channel traffic, is unlikely to be in place for many years.

A report from Dover District Council said an interim "temporary traffic management system", named Operation Brock, would be in place "for some time".

The plan will see a 13-mile stretch of the M20 turned into a temporary lorry park to ease congestion in parts of Kent.

The report also suggested that the port town could be surrounded by a gridlock as a result of potential "regulatory and tariff barriers" between the UK and the EU.

This would have a domino effect on the supply chain and the shelf-life of perishable foods in the event of increased waiting times, the report added.

Another industry boss this week warned that a no-deal Brexit would limit supplies to shoppers.

Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association, told BBC Newsnight on Monday: "We live in a just-in-time world. We don't stockpile ingredients.

"There are probably going to be shortages of ingredients, particularly like tomatoes, which we buy in quite a lot from Spain and Europe generally, lettuce."

Prime minister Theresa May and government ministers last week suggested that stockpiling food supplies could be a "sensible" part of contingency plans.

Mrs May told 5 News: "That concept, what it is, is about making sure that we will be able to continue to do the things that are necessary once we have left the European Union, if we leave without a deal."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs denied stockpiling plans and said: "We will consider any meeting requests received and respond in the usual way.

"The UK has an excellent level of food security, built on access to a range of sources including strong domestic production and imports from third countries. This will continue to be the case as we leave the EU.

"While we are making sensible preparations for all eventualities as we leave the EU, there are no plans to stockpile food. Whether we negotiate a deal or not, this will not be necessary.

"The government has well established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption - and we will be using these to support preparations for leaving the EU. Consumers will continue to have access to a range of different products."

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