When the people of the UK marginally voted to leave the EU, no one was quite sure what would happen next. Which, I think we can all agree, is not the ideal way to prepare for gargantuan political upheaval that will result in the redrafting of almost every law and an incalculable impact on the economy and international relations. Among all the terrible things that have been predicted post-Brexit—the pound crashing (again, but worse), no freedom of movement, the demise of London a global economic centre—is the news that, FYI, we might run out of food. Great!
According to reporting from the Guardian, the Government is developing contingency policies in case of a “no-deal” Brexit—the failure of Britain and the EU to come to a formal agreement before we leave the union. If this happens, importing food into the UK may become extremely difficult.
In a speech to the Brexit select committee this week, Brexit Minister Dominic Raab stressed that it “would be wrong to describe [the policies] as stockpiling.” However, he also admitted that strategies are being put in place to mitigate for supply chain issues if Britain is to leave the EU with no deal.
Which seems, extremely terrifying? If we exit the EU without agreeing to a deal, lorries carrying food from continental Europe could be stuck in large queues at the Port of Dover, due to additional food safety checks. Not only does this mean additional delays for food coming into the UK, but transporting perishable foods (such as delicious Brie or grapes) to places such as Scotland and Cornwall could prove extremely costly. Wave goodbye to those budget cheese and wine nights, lads.
Logistic measures to tackle these potential problems are being discussed, and could include transforming part of the M26 into a lorry park for HGVs carrying food items through the Dover tunnel, as well as using RAF jets to transport food across the country. Yup, jets.
“We will look at this issue in the round and make sure that there's adequate food supplies,” Raab explained to the Brexit select committee.
“I’m not quite as pessimistic as some others, when I look to the medium and long-term,” he continued. “There’s no doubt that we would have to look at the uncertainty that we’d face in the short term.”
Erik Millstone, a professor of science policy at the University of Essex and co-author of the study, A Food Brexit: time to get real, released this month, explained that there’s no easy solution to food shortage issues that would inevitably arise after a no-deal or hard Brexit. “There are real concerns about the lack of stocks, but there isn't an easy answer to that problem,” he told me over the phone. “Other than remaining within the customs union."
Even if the UK wanted to stockpile food, Millstone explains, we wouldn’t have the infrastructure necessary to do so. “Part of the problem is that the food industry doesn't have the warehouse space or the refrigeration capacity to stockpile much perishable food.”
“If we get a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit, I anticipate serious instability in supplies and prices.” Millstone continued. “I am forecasting shortages, price increases, and increased price volatility.”