No deal Brexit 'worst of all worlds for retail and consumers'

“The reality remains that a no deal Brexit in October would present the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there,” a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said on Sunday.

The trade body was responding to senior cabinet minister Michael Gove’s claims on The Andrew Marr Show that leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal would not result in any food shortages.

Gove, the former environment secretary who is now in charge of planning for a potential no deal Brexit, told the BBC programme that "everyone will have the food they need" in the event Britain leaves the EU without a deal. He didn’t say they would have the food they want, of course.

“It is categorically untrue that the supply of fresh food will be unaffected under a no deal Brexit,” the BRC retorted.

“The retail industry has been crystal clear in its communications with government over the past 36 months that the availability of fresh foods will be impacted as a result of checks and delays at the border. Indeed, the government’s own assessments showed that the flow of goods through the channel crossings could be reduced by 40-60% from day 1, as would the “availability and choice” of some foods."

According to the BRC’s own assessment, soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes and lettuces, would likely see reduced availability as they are – in the main – imported during the winter months.

The BRC spokesperson added: “While retailers continue to work with their suppliers to maintain stocks of non-perishable goods and plan ahead for any disruption caused by a no deal Brexit, it is impossible to mitigate it fully as neither retailers nor consumers can stockpile fresh foods.

“Retailers will be preparing for Christmas, stretching already limited warehousing capacity, and the UK will be importing the majority of its fresh food from the EU, magnifying the impact of border delays.”

Today, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has added his support to an open letter from unions, pressure groups and charities demanding the current incumbent at Number 10 Downing Street to answer key questions preparations to cope with potential food shortages and price rises and the subsequent societal impact.

Alongside a letter addressed to Boris Johnson from GBM union, Hope Not Hate and food charity Sustain, Brown said: “A no deal Brexit threatens the UK’s food supply chain. Imports of almost a third of our food could be subject to disruption.”

He commented: “Uncertainty, restricted supplies and a weakened pound could raise prices. This would be a catastrophe for the food industry but also for family budgets, hospitals and those driven to food banks due to the decimation of our social security system over the last decade.”

Gove also said in his television appearance that there “will be no shortage of fresh food”, but the retail industry and those representing it are, evidently, largely in disagreement.