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