Retailers press Government to avoid no-deal Brexit

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

A no-deal Brexit would disrupt the flow of food imports into the UK and raise prices, retailers have claimed
A no-deal Brexit would disrupt the flow of food imports into the UK and raise prices, retailers have claimed
The bosses of grocery retailers including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose and McDonald’s have voiced concerns about the “significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food” posed by a no-deal Brexit.

In a letter to the House of Commons, the bosses of 12 major retailers stated: “We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit.”

They warned: “We are also concerned about the impact of tariffs.”

Contingency plans would be insufficient to tackle all risks, so they feared “significant disruption​” to food supplies in the short term if the UK left the EU in March without a withdrawal agreement.

Delayed at Calais, Dover

Nearly a third of all the food UK shoppers eat came from the EU, they maintained. All the evidence suggested these imports would be delayed at either Calais or Dover, with some products more vulnerable than others.

“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,”​ the letter stated. "As this produce is fresh and perishable, it needs to be moved quickly from farms to our stores.

“This complex, ‘just-in-time’ supply chain will be significantly disrupted in the event of a 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.

‘Reduce availability

“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.”

The letter​s authors warned that, in a no-deal scenario, the UK would default to World Trade Organization (WTO) Most Favoured Nation status, increasing tariffs on many products substantially and hiking up import costs. Under WTO rules, the UK could set all import tariffs to zero, but this would lead to the market being flooded with products that were substantially cheaper than those produced domestically, dealing a huge blow to the competitiveness of UK farmers.

The retailers said they were trying to protect themselves from the damage a no-deal EU exit would cause by stockpiling. But they added: “All frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK.”

'Limited options'

“Even if there were more space, it is impossible to stockpile fresh produce, such as salad leaves and fresh fruit. Retailers typically store no more than two weeks​ inventory and it becomes difficult to restock stores if the supply chain is disrupted. 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.

“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.”

Who signed the letter?

  • Mike Coupe, chief executive, J Sainsbury
  • Roger Burnley, chief executive, Asda (Stores)
  • Steve Rowe, chief executive, Marks & Spencer
  • Jo Whitfield, retail chief executive, The Co-op
  • Rob Collins, managing director, Waitrose
  • Darcy Wilson-Rymer, chief executive, Costcutter Supermarkets
  • Paula MacKenzie, chief executive, KFC UK & Ireland
  • Clive Schlee, chief executive, Pret A Manger
  • Christian Hartnagel, chief executive, Lidl
  • Richard Pennycook, chairman, British Retail Consortium
  • Helen Dickinson, chief executive, British Retail Consortium
  • Paul Pomroy, chief executive, McDonald​s Restaurants

Related topics: Business News, Fresh produce, Brexit Debate

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1 comment

No Deal

Posted by Collette,

As I said on another post, I don't get why these retailers haven't been planning already to change where possible where they source ingredients and look at recipes for example there is too much sugar still in food.Why do McDonald's put lettuce in some burgers which are left? Why is there black sporks in plastic salads for? Why can't there be optional clear sporks instead so people who might take it home who have a fork won't need the wasted spork. It would save money and time wasted. This country should be using this opportunity to change behaviour and practices.There is so much food waste when loads are hungry it's shocking. Retailers need to stop worrying when they stock far too much fresh food which has misunderstood labelling and too much is reduced to clear meaning surplus. Surplus is caused by too few buying something and online shopping increases. Why B&M stock milk, cheese, butter for beats me I'm glad Wilko stopped it was wasted a lot I often bought them reduced to stop the waste. The waste is shocking.I use the reduced berries,bananas, milk and yogurt for smoothies reduced meals and snacks I freeze and or eat that day it's exciting you try things you wouldn't plan for and those on a budget might get a nicer meal for less! There will be challenges which should've been sorted earlier if there was more co-operation and not dog eat dog rivalry

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