With still no Brexit deal agreed, the implications of the U.K. leaving the EU at the new year without a trade agreement in place are numerous—EU regulations currently cut through all walks of U.K. life, from aviation to imports.
But it’s maybe the problems getting items quickly across border control that would pose an immediate headache for companies if a no deal Brexit occurs. And a large part of arrivals into the U.K. are food products.
The U.K. imports 40% of its food and 30% of that comes from Europe (up from 25% two decades ago). Government documents leaked to Sky News suggest that the first two weeks could be the most problematic.
In mid October, John Allan, the chairman of Tesco—one of the U.K.’s largest supermarkets—warned of short-term fresh food shortages for up to “a few months” after the Brexit transition period ends in January. “We can’t rule out the possibility that if there is dislocation at the ports of entry to the U.K. there will be some shortages of some items of fresh food, at least for a time,” he said.
Whilst the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said consumers should be assured they will still continue to have access to a “range” of different products post Brexit, there are some products with a higher risk than others.
The cost of foods is also likely to change; if products become inaccessible from EU countries, they may be imported from further afield, leading to cost increases. And if the public starts to panic buy items which come from the EU, increased demand might also lead to a rise in prices.
Fresh fruit and vegetables will be affected—the British Leafy Salads Association said that most of the lettuce leaves eaten in the U.K. over winter come from just one region of Spain.
A report commissioned by dairy company Arla, published in 2019 by the London School of Economics showed that almost all the U.K.’s yogurt comes from the EU.
The Republic of Ireland produces nearly 10 billion liters of milk a year – the majority of which is consumed in the U.K.
Nearly four out of every five forkfuls of pasta (dry, stuffed or fresh) eaten in the U.K. comes from Italy, where the durum wheat is grown.
For the first three quarters of 2018, 94% of beef imports came from the EU, and three quarters of that, from Ireland.
Most of the eggs eaten in the U.K. come from chickens reared in the country but the U.K uses a lot of powdered or liquid eggs from eastern Europe, so cakes might become an issue.
Chocolate supplies could become an issue because the cocoa beans are delivered through EU ports. Mars, for instance, brings its cocoa beans into the U.K. via Rotterdam port which then get processed in factories in the Netherlands and Germany.
Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer for the Food and Drink Federation said “if you’re trying to make a chocolate bar that has 12 ingredients, you’ve got to have all 12 ingredients at your factory on the day you make it. If that one thing doesn’t get through, that can cause problems.”
Clearly, the issues of Brexit have been compounded by the timing of the Covid-19 pandemic and the results of the U.S. election, where some fear that a possible trade deal with the U.S. will be prioritized less under President-elect Biden than it would have been under President Trump.
The U.K. government has to leave the EU by 31 December and Andrew Opie, director of food at the British Retail Consortium said “the empty shelves and shortages seen in March were mild compared to what could happen later this year if government negotiators cannot secure a deal with the EU in time.”