Sainsbury CEO Mike Coupe has thrown his weight against a no-deal Brexit, echoing industry concerns of food shortages and waste due to customs tailbacks.
The boss of Britain’s second largest retailer told Bloomberg last week that closing the borders for just a few days “would result in a food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen.”
“At the moment we put tomatoes on lorries in southern Spain, they drive for 24 hours and arrive directly in our distribution centers unencumbered,” said Coupe. “Anything that puts a barrier in that flow will increase the cost and reduce the freshness.”
Coupe did field some optimism, stating: “It’s inconceivable to me that there won’t be a solution found.”
His comments follow widespread industry warnings about food rotting in transit due to heightened customs checks in the wake of Brexit.
Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said new checks on food standards would create a serious backlog of fresh produce entering the UK.
“Over and above tailbacks at the ports, this will mean that the fresh food industry that currently operates on a ‘just in time’ basis may well see food rotting on the quay and shortages in the shops,” he said.
British agriculture has been desperately seeking answers and assurances from the government since the Brexit vote, as labour shortages and fears of new tariffs create massive uncertainty for businesses and farmers.
Prime Minister Theresa May is currently negotiating a new relationship with the EU, with time running out ahead of the March 2019 deadline, prompting fears that Britain walk away with no deal.