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No-deal Brexit threatens food supplies

The government has drafted in a minister to oversee the protection of UK food supplies following rising fears about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Tory MP David Rutley, a former Asda and PepsiCo executive, was appointed to the post of Food Supplies Minister on 3 September, but the appointment was only announced at the end of last month.

Mr Rutley previously ran the home shopping and e-commerce businesses at Asda.

The possibility that the UK will leave the European Union in March next year without having secured a deal has raised serious concerns about food shortages, with some manufacturers stockpiling ingredients.

The UK is not self-sufficient in food and has to import most of it.

Last month, the government published its latest ‘No Deal Technical Notice’ providing further details of the implications of the UK leaving the EU without any deal in place.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation warned that it laid bare “the grisly prospect of a no-deal Brexit.”

This included, he said, chaos at the ports, serious disruption to food supplies, increasing business costs, rising consumer prices and more bureaucratic burdens on producers, suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

Commented Mr Wright, “While the UK may not run out of food and drink it will certainly be scarcer and more expensive.”

He added:

“UK shoppers, who have become accustomed to all year-round availability of a wide range of safe, high-quality food and drink at all price points, will face a very rude awakening.”

The Guardian reported that food industry insiders welcomed the appointment of Mr Rutley as food supplies minister, after warnings that delays of only half an hour at UK ports and the Irish border would risk one in 10 British firms going bankrupt.

One food industry business leader told the newspaper:

“The issue at the ports is a big threat. The UK always has been a net importer of food. If the ports don’t work then exporters will be struggling and importers will have a challenge too.”

The executive added that while some food manufacturers were already setting aside additional supplies, stockpiling was not possible for products with a short shelf life, such as milk or vegetables.

Many have reacted with shock to the news that Britain needs a minister to ensure the country has enough food.

Commentated writer, Emma Kennedy:

“Oh joy. We’re getting a Food Supplies Minister for when the food chain collapses. Brexit’s just SUPER isn’t it?”

LBC radio presented, James O’Brien added:

“We are about to become the first country in history to impose economic sanctions on ourselves.”

Labour MEP Seb Dance described the move as “bonkers”. He said:

“The government – instead of looking at imminent Brexit food shortages and thinking, ‘It’s our duty to ensure that doesn’t happen’ instead appoints a food-shortage minister to oversee the mess.”

Government ministers have previously considered plans to deploy army helicopters and trucks if a Brexit-deal cannot be agreed.

The army would take food and medical supplies to vulnerable and elderly people, according to news reports.

Whilst the government has tried to play down the risk of such drastic shortage, it is feared that not securing an agreement with the EU could stop imports of food and vital supplies.

Earlier in the summer the Prime Minister, Theresa May, did not deny stockpiling, but told Channel 5 News the Government is being responsible. She said:

“Far from being worried about preparations that we are making, I would say that people should take reassurance and comfort from the fact that the Government is saying we are in a negotiation, we are working for a good deal.

“I believe we can get a good deal – but because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be let’s prepare for every eventuality.”

The news that Britain is to appoint a new Minister to ensure adequate food supplies for the country has brought back memories of when Britain was facing a food shortage because of World War Two.

In April 1940, Lord Woolton, a prominent businessman, was appointed Minister of Food.

His mission was to guarantee adequate food supply. In the dark days of summer 1940, with a German invasion threatened, Woolton was responsible for ensuring food stocks were in place, even if the shipping could not get through.

Although the country is not now at war, the circumstances seem eerily similar to today.

The brief of our new food supplies minister, Mr Rutley, is also to guarantee adequate food supply.

In the dark days of autumn 2018, with a no-deal Brexit threatened, Rutley will be responsible for ensuring food stocks are in place, even if the shipping cannot get through after March 2019.

But there is one big difference. Brexit is self-inflicted. We don’t have to do it.

Was life in Britain really so bad before 23 June 2016?

Yes, there were many things that needed fixing. But instead of fixing them, Brexit is going to burden Britain with yet more things to fix.

There are no benefits to Brexit. Not even one.

• Photo of Lord Woolton by Yousuf Karsh

• Photo of David Rutley, MP, by Chris McAndrew

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