Government documents lay bare the ‘grisly crisis facing the UK’s food and drink supply chain’

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/Tanaonte
©GettyImages/Tanaonte

Related tags: Brexit

Some fresh food supplies will fall in the UK while “critical dependencies for the food chain” such as key ingredients “may be in shorter supply” in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK government planning documents have confirmed.

Operation Yellowhammer, which is the UK government’s 'reasonable worst-case planning assumptions' for the leaving the EU without a deal, was released yesterday (11 September) at the request of the House of Commons. The five-page document is almost identical to one leaked to British newspaper The Sunday Times ​last month. 

It warns that these factors will not lead to overall food shortages “but will reduce the availability of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups​”.

Food and Drink Federation Chief Executive Ian Wright said the newly released documents laid bare the ‘grisly crisis facing the UK’s food and drink supply chain’ in a no-deal Brexit scenario. “It is as the Food and Drink Federation have been saying for the best part of two years now. In a no-deal Brexit scenario there would be significant and adverse changes to product availability, and random shortages. Government must be upfront about the chaos a no-deal Brexit would bring.”

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, agreed that a no-deal Brexit was bad news for British retailers and the public. “A no-deal Brexit in November represents the worst possible timing for the retail industry and the consumers it serves. Warehousing availability will be limited as retailers prepare for Black Friday and Christmas, many fresh fruit and vegetables will be out of season in the UK, and imports will be hampered by disruption through the Channel Straits that could reduce flow by up to 60% for up to three months.

While retailers are doing all they can to prepare for a no deal Brexit, it is impossible to completely mitigate the negative impact it would have -- something the Government itself has acknowledged. The fact remains that a damaging, no deal Brexit is in no one’s interests and it is vital that a solution is found, and fast, that ensures frictionless tariff-free trade with the EU after our departure.”

According to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK remains committed to securing a deal with the EU but is making full preparations for a no-deal departure.

UK public 'faces prospect of watered-down food regulations'

Meanwhile, legal experts have warned that the UK public faces the prospect of watered-down food regulations after Brexit with Parliament having little say.

Analysis by the University of Sussex-based UK Trade Policy Observatory warns that stringent regulation, which currently restricts some of the more controversial US food produce from UK supermarket shelves, could be stripped away with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny through Statutory Instruments (SIs).

Dr Emily Lydgate, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, said: “In the event of no deal, or a basic EU-UK Free Trade Agreement, the UK Government will be under pressure to make a success of Brexit through new trade agreements.

“The concern is that ministers have extensive scope to make significant food safety concessions in order to reach an agreement with the US potentially in the face of opposition from consumers or food producers who would worry about losing access to the EU market.

“The US has long complained about the EU's hazard-based approach to banning some pesticides categorically, rather than permitting their residues, and also over the lengthy EU process for approving new genetically modified crops, which the US Trade Representative (USTR) estimates costs US agriculture $2 billion/year.”

Chloe Anthony, a LLM student at the University of Sussex, said: “The real risk is that there are SIs giving ministers a lot of power on controversial policy areas which the US will be pushing very hard to reform.

Through SIs, UK ministers have the ability to amend, revoke and make regulations on how active ingredients in pesticides are authorised, the maximum residue levels permitted in food and to the GMO application and authorisation process."

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