August 7, 2019
The UK food industry wants competition laws suspended to allow it to stockpile enough food to deal with a No Deal Brexit in October, warning that shortages could last until Christmas.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) wants aspects of the law that block companies from co-ordinating and directing supplies with each other set aside.
Doing so is illegal, as the law stands, and companies engaging in such practices risk being fined by the Competition and Markets Authority.
The FDF’s chief operating officer Tim Rycroft told the BBC that shortages of some foods could go on for ‘weeks or months’, potentially meaning it could spill over into the festive period.
‘In the event of no-deal disruption, if the Government wants the food supply chain to work together to tackle likely shortages – to decide where to prioritise shipments – they will have to provide cast-iron written reassurances that competition law will not be strictly applied to those discussions,’ he added.
But Michael Gove this afternoon insisted that the ‘resilient’ UK food sector would be able to cope with a no-deal Brexit.
He said: ‘I’m confident, because the UK has a very resilient food supply system, that actually we will be able to make sure that people have a wide range and all the choice that they need.
‘But of course, we’re constantly talking to supermarkets, food distributors and others to see what more the Government can do to help.
‘And we stand ready to ensure that the regime that we put in place as a Government is responsive to their needs.’
When pressed on warehouse storage space, Mr Gove said: ‘Leaving on October 31 without a deal would certainly mean that there was pressure on warehouse space, but it is the case that at different times of the year there are different trade flows.’
‘In the event of no-deal disruption, if the Government wants the food supply chain to work together to tackle likely shortages … they will have to provide cast-iron written reassurances that competition law will not be strictly applied to those discussions,’ FDF’s chief operating officer Tim Rycroft told the BBC
The FDF has a list of 40 questions for the Government on its website, divided into areas such as transports and logistics, imports, exports and financial consequences
The industry says that, because of stockpiling for Christmas, leaving the EU in the autumn could pose more difficulties than the original Brexit date last March.
One retailer told the BBC that October 31 ‘is about the worst day you can pick’, as warehouse capacity is at 105 per cent in November, versus 75 per cent to 80 per cent in March.
The UK would reportedly need 30 huge empty warehouses to store even a week’s extra food supply.
Another retailer said: ‘At the extreme, people like me and people from government will have to decide where lorries go to keep food supply chains going. And in that scenario we’d have to work with competitors, and the Government would have to suspend competition laws.’
The FDF has a list of 40 questions for the Government on its website, divided into areas such as transports and logistics, imports, exports and financial consequences.
Crossbench peer Lord Haskins, a former chairman of Northern Foods, said he believed there could be ‘panic-buying’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We could be in a sort of wartime situation of a limited amount of food rationing.
‘Those who can remember the war, that took a long time to put into place and it was pretty haphazard and pretty unfair.
‘I don’t think we’ll get to that, but I’m very concerned about the groups who aren’t in the supermarket chain, how they will deal with things.’
Meanwhile hauliers have warned that lorry drivers in Dover face the ‘absolutely outrageous’ scenario of sitting in two-day long queues without food or toilets if the UK crashes out of the EU.
A Road Haulage Association (RHA) spokesman said a no-deal Brexit means thousands of drivers may end up waiting in queues of more than 48 hours with no welfare facilities.
The RHA is among organisations meeting Cabinet ministers in Dover later to discuss preparations for Brexit at the border.
Duncan Buchanan, policy director for the RHA in England and Wales, will meet Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at the Port of Dover.
He told PA Media: ‘I think people underestimate the scale of the complexity of it.’
Speaking about potential delays in Dover in a no-deal scenario, he said: ‘I believe the reasonable best case scenario that authorities are working on is between 24 and 48 hour delays on all vehicles.
‘All vehicles, all lorries going through the port. I think that’s possibly optimistic.
‘I think it’s actually certainly optimistic.’
He added that another concern is that there is no provision for how vans are going to be dealt with.
‘We have huge road delays. We have serious problems. If a lorry is caught up 24 hours on the motorway, where does the driver go to the toilet?
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said a no-deal Brexit means thousands of drivers may end up waiting in queues of more than 48 hours with no welfare facilities like toilets
‘They’re putting in no welfare provisions whatsoever. This is absolutely outrageous that drivers can be treated like they’re completely unimportant.
‘There needs to be proper facilities for drivers so that their welfare is looked after,’ he said.
Mr Buchanan said there are 60 working days to get this sorted, adding: ‘It needs to be done as a matter of speed.’
He said he has heard people say drivers will need to bring ‘picnic hampers’ due to delays.
‘It’s ridiculous,’ he said, adding: ‘The idea that they’re going into the bushes to go to the toilet on the side of a motorway, I mean, what planet is that on?’
He also pointed out the legal issue whereby drivers of heavy goods vehicles are limited in the amount of hours they are allowed to drive in a day.
The RHA is among organisations meeting Cabinet ministers in Dover later to discuss preparations for Brexit at the border
‘So if they run out of working hours, they’re not allowed to drive so the queue will go in really funny and odd ways, because people are going to have to overtake people who are taking rests.
‘Far more complicated than the average lay person understands.
‘These are issues I wish I could say to you have been sorted out and have been addressed properly but they’re not,’ he said.
Asked if it is possible to sort these issues out in 60 days, he said the first priority is to minimise the queues.
‘What we need to do is to have good accurate and complete information so the lorries can get on the ferries and get off the ferries really quickly without anyone being turned around.
‘If we get that done then the problem is minimised.
‘That’s why we need the clear instructions from government, the training, provision, online training for traders, we need end to end journey explanations of who does what.
‘At the moment traders don’t know what they have to do, they don’t know who they need to talk to, they don’t know who’s responsible for what.’
Operation Brock has already been deployed to keep the M20 open in both directions in Kent.
In the event of disruption in Dover, lorries travelling to mainland Europe will be held on the coastbound carriageway while a contraflow system will operate across other lanes.
The previous method for dealing with lorries queuing, known as Operation Stack, meant sections of the motorway were closed and caused chaos for local journeys.