Experts warn panic-buying over Brexit could be worse than coronavirus response

Panic buying has led to empty shelves in supermarkets. Photograph: Sherif El-Alfy/Archant.

Panic buying has led to empty shelves in supermarkets. Photograph: Sherif El-Alfy/Archant. - Credit: Archant

Experts have warned that panic-buying in the UK could return at the end of the year if there is a no-deal Brexit, and the result could be worse than the initial response to the coronavirus.

Consumer analysis firm Kantar found that supermarket sales during March were higher than those seen ahead of the Christmas period, with households buying on average five days worth of extra shopping, and shelves regularly emptying of essential items.

Experts now warn that the response to the coronavirus outbreak could increase anxieties about the end of the Brexit transition period, causing them to rush out to the supermarkets as it closes later this year.

'They will think, 'I've been through this recently, I'm worried about it, let's start thinking about what happens if this becomes reality,'' consumer psychologist Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd told Politico.

'It is clear that when people anticipate shortages they rush to the shops to try to stock up, and exhortations [by the government against this] on their own have been proven insufficient', added Erik Millstone, a University of Sussex professor with expertise in food safety.

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Despite criticism of the just-in-time system, Dominic Goudie, the head of international trade at the Food and Drink Federation, insisted the supply chain is 'actually pretty robust,' but warned that 'the Brexit impact on the supply chain would be worse than the coronavirus.'

'In a no-deal Brexit situation, with tariffs and regulatory checks, some supplies could stop overnight,' he said.

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'[With the coronavirus,] some drivers are worried that if they drive into another country they could be at risk of infection or the borders could close and they could be stuck there. In a Brexit situation... drivers could get stuck if they do not have the right paperwork or approvals. Some drivers might decide entering the UK is more trouble than it's worth.'

But the government denied there was any need for stockpiling ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period.

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A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: 'We are confident in the resilience of our supply chains. There is no need for citizens to stockpile now or in the future.'

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