At least the headline writers are seeing the funny side to the latest Brexit warnings. “Lettuce pray” says the Metro over a story of impending fresh food shortages when Britain leaves the EU. Others are in full Armageddon mode: ‘No Deal Brexit could lead to 12,000 extra deaths’ warns one title. “KFC and McDonalds to run out of fresh food in no deal Brexit’, says another. On no, not so finger lickin’ good, is it?
Asda, Sainsbury’s, M&S, Waitrose, The Co-op, Costcutter and Lidl have signed a letter to MPs warning of the impact that no deal with have on their supply chains. It means empty shelves and soaring prices, they tell us.
The letter was organised by the British Retail Consortium and was sent on the eve of the crucial vote on the Brexit process.
Without wholly dismissing the concerns of some of our biggest companies in this most important of all industries, the warning has to be tempered with a little scepticism. After all, Tesco – Britain’s biggest supermarket chain – is not a signatory to this letter. Nor is Aldi. Do they know something the others don’t? Do they have a secret supply chain?
The letter states that one third of the food we eat in the UK comes from the EU and that during March 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit is imported from the bloc.
But that also means two-thirds of food comes from elsewhere, including homegrown producers, and it is a good bet that these suppliers will be doing their level best to ramp up production to meet any shortfall.
In any case, the EU suppliers will be just as anxious to sell their products as we are to buy them. At worst, there will be delays as more checks are made at crossing points, and there may be some price rises if tariffs prove unavoidable – maybe in the short term – but food being left to rot in Rotterdam? That would be in no one’s interest and they will be making sure we get our salad supplies.
Cynics are accusing the signatories to this letter of using Brexit as an excuse to raise prices and cut costs in what is an increasingly competitive food market. Others are recalling the Y2K warnings of imminent doom when computers would fail to acknowledge the change from 1999 to 2000 and planes would fall out of the sky. Nothing happened and the world carried on.
Whatever the underlying motives behind the empty shelves alert it may mean we have to go without lettuces, tomatoes and soft fruit for a while.
We’ve coped with worse.