Su­per­mar­ket bosses’ con­cern mounts over threat of empty shelves in no-deal Brexit

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - By Ben Mar­low, Ash­ley Arm­strong and Lucy Bur­ton

SOME of the food in­dus­try’s most se­nior fig­ures are pre­par­ing to is­sue a joint pub­lic warn­ing about the per­ils of a no-deal Brexit, as con­cerns mount that su­per­mar­ket shelves could be left bare within days if Bri­tain crashes out of Europe.

The move could see the Big Four gro­cers led by Tesco and Sains­bury’s team­ing up with dis­count ri­vals Aldi and Lidl and multi­na­tional food sup­pli­ers in­clud­ing Unilever and Nes­tle to spell out the per­ils of leav­ing the Eu­ro­pean Union with­out an agree­ment.

The com­pa­nies, which count for tens of bil­lions of pounds in com­bined foods sales ev­ery year, have cal­cu­lated that cham­pagne, toma­toes and even bread are among the goods that would quickly run out as queues of lor­ries formed at the port of Dover.

Su­per­mar­ket bosses be­lieve it would take less than two days for a tail­back to form from cen­tral Lon­don down the M20 back to the UK’S busiest port, as bor­der checks slowed the en­try of thou­sands of ve­hi­cles to a snail’s pace.

Port chiefs have pre­vi­ously claimed that a two-minute de­lay to each lorry pass­ing through Dover would lead to a 17-mile queue. The prob­lem would be ex­ac­er­bated by an acute short­age of cus­toms agents.

The big gro­cers have be­gun draw­ing up con­tin­gency plans, but ad­mit pri­vately that their op­tions are lim­ited be­cause of Dover’s size and promi­nence, which en­ables a steady stream of rol­lon, roll-off lor­ries and reg­u­lar fer­ries.

Some prod­ucts could come through other ports in­clud­ing Hull, Southamp­ton and Lon­don Gate­way, but it would re­quire costly fleets of trucks to take de­liv­ery of the con­tain­ers.

Air trans­porta­tion isn’t seen as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive, be­cause it is around 10 times more ex­pen­sive than ship­ping, while stock­pil­ing is dif­fi­cult be­cause most fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles have a life cy­cle of just a few days. But busi­ness lead­ers have cau­tiously backed Theresa May’s draft Brexit plan for the sake of sta­bil­ity. Nigel Wil­son, the boss of Le­gal & Gen­eral, said it was time for busi­nesses to get be­hind Mrs May “and get her deal over the line”.

John Al­lan, chair­man of Tesco and pres­i­dent of the CBI, said: “This deal is the best op­tion avail­able. It’s a good start, but there is still a long way to go.

City ty­coon Peter Crud­das, who do­nated £1.5m to the Vote Leave cam­paign, said he also sup­ported Mrs May’s plan.

Si­mon Emeny, the boss of Fuller’s brew­ery, said he be­lieved that the Prime Min­is­ter had been dealt “a very tough hand”.

Other UK bosses said they wanted the op­tion that would give clar­ity to busi­nesses the quick­est, hint­ing at their sup­port for Mrs May’s draft deal.

“What busi­ness doesn’t want is un­cer­tainty, and this deal re­moves a great deal of un­cer­tainty,” said Mr Emeny.

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