Environment secretary says pandemic shows food supply chain will cope with no-deal Brexit

Environment Secretary George Eustice. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA.

Environment secretary George Eustice - Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

Environment secretary George Eustice has claimed 'we don't need to worry too much' about interrupts to food supplies after Brexit.

Concerns have been raised about interruptions to food supplies in the face of a 'no-deal' situation where a trade agreement is not secured with the EU before January.

But Eustice said the pandemic had shown that the UK's food supply chain is 'remarkably resilient'.

'Remarkably the transport of fresh fruit and salads and veg from Spain continued largely uninterrupted, despite all of the problems those countries were going through, the food supply chain right across Europe kept going.'

There were some issues with things such as spices from India and vitamins for fortifying bread.

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He said: 'Generally speaking, I think we are more confident than ever we don't need to worry too much about the end of the transition period.'

He said he was confident the UK would be able to get food into the country whatever the agreement was with Europe.

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Eustice made the comments as he was quizzed by MPs on the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee on food supplies during the pandemic.

Questioned on the panic buying that took place at the beginning of the lockdown, the environment secretary said he felt the government intervened to urge people to stop 'at exactly the right time'.

He said initially the industry and supermarkets were best-placed to lead the response and talking about panic buying or putting quotas on products too early could worsen the problem.

He said: 'It's only where we had nothing to lose because panic buying was at full tilt, by around March 21 or 22, that it was right to come out and make a different type of appeal to say to people 'stop panic buying, you are depriving others of food, it's irresponsible thing to do'.

'I think there's a time and place for government to intervene and I think we did it at exactly the right time.'

He also said the 'Pick for Britain' scheme to recruit people for the fruit and veg harvest in the face of coronavirus was a 'great success', attracting those who were furloughed, unemployed or students.

Around a third of people picking fruit and vegetables in June for larger employers were British and the remaining two-thirds were immigrants who were already here or managed to get over despite coronavirus.

'We've not had reports of significant problems with businesses getting the labour they need.'

He said that whatever happens to boost British workers for harvesting crops, there would still be a need for migrant labour.

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