The Food and Drink Foundation (FDF) has told the government that it will need to waive anti-competition laws between supermarkets in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with food shortages and supply chain breakdowns expected to last for months.
The FDF has repeatedly asked the government for assurances on supply chain and storage planning for fresh food if the U.K. leaves the EU without a deal, according to the BBC, as current rules prohibit suppliers, distributors, and supermarkets from collaborating on pricing and supply. FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft said that “there would be “selective shortages” of food that would go on for “weeks or months,” days after a new research paper warned that low income families and food banks would be disproportionately affected by food shortages. The FDF also told the BBC that it had been seeking those assurances since last year, a familiar pattern, with the food and restaurant industry warning against the dangers of a no deal Brexit and the impact of Brexit on the U.K. food industry for almost a year now.
Waiving non-compete laws would enable more efficient coordination and control of compromised supply chains, which would need time to readjust in the event of raised prices and stricter border checks. It would also require absolute reassurance: the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) — which recently blocked a merger between supermarket giants Asda and Sainsbury’s that would have been worth over £12 billion — can fine companies up to 10 percent of turnover for breaking its rules.
The FDF has also warned against the timing of that potential no-deal Brexit: leaving the EU on 31 October, when the U.K. is more reliant on European imports for food that is, being straightforward, out of season, puts excessive pressure on warehouse space.
Lord Haskins, former chairman of Northern Foods, told the BBC: “The government thinks food will flow normally in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I have my doubts.
”I think there will be some panic buying, that will create shortages. I am very worried about the supermarkets getting a priority, we have to remember the schools are very important, the NHS is very important… restaurants and catering. All of them have very complex distribution systems. I don’t see how that can be left to the private sector to deal with frankly.” A government spokesperson replied that: “There will not be an overall shortage of food in the UK after we leave the EU.”
With no new clarity on Boris Johnson’s route to Brexit, concerns about the future of the U.K.’s food supply in the event of no-deal are only likely to grow.
- All Brexit food coverage [Eater London]
- Brexit: Food industry seeks no-deal competition waiver [BBC]