Food chiefs call for competition law waiver amid no-deal Brexit supply warnings

The UK food industry wants aspects of competition law to be set aside to allow firms to co-ordinate

The UK food industry wants aspects of competition law to be set aside to allow firms to co-ordinate and direct supplies with each other in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A peer has warned of possible panic buying or even limited rationing in the event of a no-deal Brexit, amid food industry calls for waivers in competition law to allow coordination of the supply chain.

Former chair of Northern Foods Lord Haskins said he believed there will be some "panic-buying" in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He also told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We could be in a sort of wartime situation of a limited amount of food rationing. Those who can remember the war, that took a long time to put into place and it was pretty haphazard and pretty unfair.

"I don't think we'll get to that, but I'm very concerned about the groups who aren't in the supermarket chain, how they will deal with things. We'll have to prioritise."

He pointed out that the food industry relies on 'just-in-time' supply logistics. "You don't have many minutes to miss before you've got a real problem," he said.

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His comments come amid demands from the food industry to suspend some competition law to allow companies to coordinate supply chains and prioritise recipient areas in the event of disruption if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Currently, the Competition and Markets Authority forbids such coordination to avoid price-fixing, but the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has asked for assurances that fines would not be applied if companies worked together to tackle shortages.

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"In the event of no-deal disruption, if the government wants the food supply chain to work together to tackle likely shortages - to decide where to prioritise shipments - they will have to provide cast-iron written reassurances that competition law will not be strictly applied to those discussions," FDF's chief operating officer Tim Rycroft told the BBC.

Another retailer said: "At the extreme, people like me and people from government will have to decide where lorries go to keep food supply chains going. And in that scenario we'd have to work with competitors, and the government would have to suspend competition laws."

The FDF says that it has been asking for assurances from the government since the end of 2018.

The industry says that, because of stockpiling for Christmas, leaving the EU in the autumn could pose more difficulties than the original Brexit date last March.

One retailer told the BBC that October 31 "is about the worst day you can pick", as warehouse capacity is at 105% in November, versus 75% to 80% in March.

A professor from the Centre for Food Policy, Tim Lang, has also warned in medical journal the Lancet that if food supply slowed for a number of weeks, the strain could have an effect that is "unprecedented in peacetime" and would hit the poor worst.

Food supply strain of a no-deal Brexit could be 'unprecedented in peacetime', warns profThe FDF told the BBC that 30 huge empty warehouses would be needed to store even a week's extra food supply.

The federation lists 40 questions for the government on its website, divided into areas such as transports and logistics, imports, exports and financial consequences.

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