Top retailers warn of food running out after no-deal Brexit

PUBLISHED: 14:25 28 January 2019

A British store after a no-deal Brexit

A British store after a no-deal Brexit

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Some of Britain's leading stores have warned that a no-deal Brexit will drive up food prices and pose a "significant" risk to the range of products on supermarket shelves.

A letter to MPs warned that tariffs would “greatly” increase import costs if the UK is forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules, while potential delays at ports will “reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores”.

Signatories to the retailers’ letter include Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer, the Co-Op, Lidl, Waitrose, Costcutter, KFC, McDonald’s and Pret A Manger as well as the British Retail Consortium.

They warned that the UK relies on Europe for almost one-third of its food, and that it will not be possible in a no-deal scenario to mitigate all risks to supply chains, many of which involve highly perishable goods.

“In March, the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90% of our lettuces, 80% of our tomatoes and 70% of our soft fruit is sourced from the EU at that time of year,” said the letter.

The supermarket and restaurant chain bosses said: “We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit.

“We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.

“We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March and removes these risks for UK consumers.”

Meanwhile, a former MI5 chief warned that a no-deal Brexit should be “avoided at all costs”.

Baroness Manningham-Buller said that a range of security threats - from terrorism to Russian interference - were best dealt with “in a European context”, telling BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “If we leave without a deal we are going to be less safe.

“I am pretty queasy that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is so in favour of Brexit - I think that should give us all pause.”

The warnings came as MPs prepared to vote tomorrow on a series of proposed amendments to prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans, including one which would block EU withdrawal without an agreement.

Downing Street said the PM remained committed to quitting the EU on March 29 and will take her plan back to the House of Commons for a second “meaningful vote” as soon as possible after tomorrow’s debate.

May was coming under pressure from Conservative colleagues and the Democratic Unionist Party to seek further concessions from Brussels on the so-called “backstop” arrangements designed to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.

Tory grandee Sir Graham Brady said he hoped to secure government backing for an amendment tabled for debate tomorrow which would give the PM “enormous firepower” when she goes back to Brussels, by telling her to replace the backstop with an alternative arrangement to keep the Irish border open.

But hopes of securing concessions were dealt a blow as a European Commission vice-president said it would be “a stupid thing” for the EU to make further changes which would put the remaining 27 members at a disadvantage simply to secure a deal.

Jyrki Kateinen said there was “no reason to give any concessions” to the UK and there was “not much room for manoeuvre” on the backstop, which is designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

Meanwhile, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a Brussels press conference: “This Withdrawal Agreement has been agreed with the UK government, it is endorsed by leaders and is not open for renegotiation.”

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