Retailers refute government Brexit claims

London, UK: Several large retailers are challenging government claims that a no-deal Brexit will have no effect on the supply of fresh food in particular.

Earlier this month, Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal preparations, has said there will be no shortages of fresh food. This has been disputed by the British Retail Consortium, as “categorically untrue”.

And the government’s internal Yellowhammer no-deal document from last month clearly states its reasonable worst-case planning assumption that “certain types of fresh food supply will decrease”.

There were two meetings today (18 September) between Gove and retail and food chiefs from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and John Lewis, among others the BBC reports.

Retailers are wary of taking the blame for any no-deal consequences with government expected to claim and post Brexit food shortages are the the result of lack of preparedness from traders, hauliers and businesses.

Retailers report that despite some improvement in the predicted rate of flow of freight traffic across the Channel in a no-deal Brexit, the timing of Brexit Day comes at the worst possible time, with warehouses full of Christmas stock and the UK at peak dependence on European imports for fresh produce. Most retailers have little more than a two week supply.

Retailers are also faced with how to deal with a possible consumer response to no-deal and panic buying that will trigger short term shortages. Previous events such as the fuel crisis and the “Beast from the East” snow disruption show how quickly major supply issues arise which can last for several weeks.

Supply issues may well be localised but social media means these will quickly gain widespread publicity fuelling further problems. Of specific concern is the interaction between social media and and localised supply shortages. In particular, the industry is wondering who exactly will reassure consumers not to stockpile.

According to Faisal Islam, economics editor, at the BBC, “Some insiders, present at key planning meetings, believe the lack of trust of large parts of the public in politicians mean that reassurances from government ministers designed to stop panic-buying could provoke the opposite response.

“However, those retailers concerned by an emerging Brexit blame game are also increasingly sceptical that it is their job to be reassuring about the consequences of government policy not of their making,” Islam said.

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