Speaking at a parliamentary select committee today at the House of Lords, Wright warned that the UK was not prepared to handle the pressures of trade outside the EU.
“It simply isn’t going to happen,” he said. “The technology isn’t there, it isn’t tested. The new customs declaration system will not even be ready for testing until February next year and, theoretically, it will need to be in action three weeks later.
“The simple problem for us is that all these systems need to be ready and work faultlessly on day one [of Brexit].”
The lack of a working customs system and non-tariff barriers would lead to more than just costs added to the import and export of food, but would also create disruption and delays in the supply chain, Wright added.
Wright said: “A five-minute delay at Dover for each lorry involves Operation Stack [parking or stacking lorries when cross-Channel services are disrupted] going back to the M25 within 24 hours. And that’s just going that way [into the EU].
“The other problem is that nobody has done a proper audit of what’s going to happen to imports.”
He also warned that EU ports would not be ready to handle the delays and disruptions caused by removing non-tariff barriers between the UK and the EU.
“All of these things need to work faultlessly if consumers and shoppers are to notice no disruption and to see no increase in costs,” Wright added. “They are not going to work faultlessly, so whatever we do, we need longer.”
Delays at the border would also decrease the shelf-life of fresh foods, claimed Andrew Opie, director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium.
Non-tariff barriers would also increase costs by up to 2% alone, even without adding the costs of tariffs and delays on shipping food, said Opie.
Meanwhile, Professor Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, said non-tariff barriers highlighted problems with the UK’s infrastructure.
He pointed to recent job cuts among environmental health officers and port officers, which had fuelled delays at ports.
Lang also questioned what would replace the 30 major institutions that “underpin UK food”, such as the European Food Safety Authority.