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28th Jan 2019

Supermarket bosses sign letter to MPs warning of dangers of no-deal Brexit

Supermarket bosses have signed an open letter to Members of Parliament, warning them about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit regarding food imports

Reuben Pinder

A no-deal Brexit could cause severe disruption to the supply of food into Britain, supermarket bosses have warned

Bosses of leading food retailers including Sainsbury’s, ASDA, M&S, Co-op, Waitrose, KFC, Pret, Lidl, McDonald’s, Costcutter and the British Retail Consortium have signed an open letter to MPs, warning them of the dangers that a no-deal Brexit could cause in the supply of food into Britain.

As it stands, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29. Theresa May’s deal was voted down in the Commons by an overwhelming margin of 230 MPs.

The letter explains that nearly a third of food consumed in the UK came from the European Union and would be hit by any delays at ports in the case of the country leaving the EU without a trade deal in place.

They also warned that the imposition of tariffs and a collapse the value of the pound as a result of crashing out of the EU could lead to price hikes for customers.

“We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit,” the letter reads.

“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.

“This complex, ‘just in time’ supply chain will be significantly disrupted in the event of no deal.”

“Even if the UK Government does not undertake checks on products at the border, there will still be major disruption at Calais as the French government has said it will enforce sanitary and customs checks on exports from the EU, which will lead to long delays; Government data suggest freight trade between Calais and Dover may reduce by 87% against current levels as a result.

“For consumers, this will reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores.”

Currently, only 10% of imported foods are subjected to tariffs. The letter warns that leaving the customs union would have a substantial impact on prices.

Reverting to World Trade Organisation rules runs the risk of “greatly increase import costs, which could in turn put upward pressure on food prices”, the letter says.

Some Brexiteers have called for the UK to set tariffs at zero, which would “have a devastating impact on our own farmers, a key part of our supply chains”.

“We are also attempting to find alternative supply routes but there are limited options and not enough ferries, so this could only replace a fraction of the current capacity,” it continues.

The bosses – along with the chief executive and chairman of industry body the British Retail Consortium – urged MPs to “work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no-deal Brexit on March 29 and removes these risks for UK consumers”.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “The UK has a high level of food security built upon a diverse range of sources, including strong domestic production and imports from other countries.

“This will continue to be the case whether we leave the EU with or without a deal.

“The Government has well-established ways of working with the food industry to prevent disruption – and we are using these to support preparations for leaving the EU.”