As the UK inches closer to crashing out of the European Union without a divorce deal in place, the government is anticipating the potential impacts on many aspects of British life.
This includes food.
A recently released government document laid out the effects of a worst-case scenario and said a no-deal Brexit could limit Britain’s supply of fresh produce. The internal report—known as the Yellowhammer document—said imports would face serious disruptions as trucks carrying goods would see long delays at French customs. This could be significant as a big chunk of the food people eat in the UK comes from other EU countries. In 2017, 30 percent of food consumed in the UK originated in the EU, and 50 percent was produced in Britain.
The disruption of access to EU export markets would also damage British agriculture. Farmers’ groups say barriers to those markets, along with a loss of migrant labor, could be disastrous for the UK’s food security.
The Yellowhammer document said that, while there won’t necessarily be an overall food shortage, the availability of certain types of fresh produce would decrease, bringing price spikes that would affect “vulnerable groups.” The document also admitted the government will not be able to fully anticipate all potential food supply chain problems and that panic buying could exacerbate them.
“The UK growing season will have come to an end and the Agri-food supply chain will be under increased pressure at this time of year, due to preparations for Christmas, which is the busiest time of year for food retailers,” according to the Yellowhammer document, which was released after parts of it were leaked to the British press this summer.
Retailers have warned about the effects such a scenario would have on Britain’s supply of fresh food, especially in the run-up to the holiday season when warehousing availability will be low.
The British government has failed to approve a deal that would lay out how the UK would untangle itself from its complex relationship with the political and economic union. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal, and he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than seek an extension past the current deadline of Oct. 31. His predecessor, Theresa May, failed to get a deal she negotiated with the EU through Parliament.
Since Johnson became prime minister, he lost his governing majority due to a defection and expelled 21 MPs from the Conservative Party when they voted with the opposition to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Further dampening Johnson’s goals, an alliance of MPs then passed a bill that requires the prime minister to seek an extension from the EU if no deal is reached before the end of October.