British retailers have hit back at claims by Michael Gove over the weekend that there will be no fresh food shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Gove appeared on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning as the government launches its 'Get ready for Brexit' campaign, to encourage British businesses and households to prepare for the October 31 departure date.
In a testy exchange between Marr and Gove, the former Defra secretary, and current Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, denied that the UK would face any reduction in fresh food imports, despite repeated warnings from suppliers that a no-deal Brexit will cause stock-impacting shortages due to border delays.
“Are you absolutely sure that there will be no shortages of fresh food in this country as a result of no-deal?” Marr asked.
“Everyone will have the food they need,” responded Gove.
“That’s not the answer, will there be shortages and you’re saying 'yes there will be'?” Marr said.
“No there will be no shortages of fresh food,” Gove said.
Gove’s comments confounded members of the fresh produce industry however, who will face greater hardships in importing fresh produce goods across the Calais-Dover border as customs declarations will return in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A British Retail Consortium spokesperson said: “It is categorically untrue that the supply of fresh food will be unaffected under a no-deal Brexit. The retail industry has been crystal clear in its communications with Government over the past 36 months that the availability of fresh foods will be impacted as a result of checks and delays at the border.
“Indeed, the Government’s own assessments showed that the flow of goods through the channel crossings could be reduced by 40-60 per cent from day one, as would the “availability and choice” of some foods.”
The BRC’s own assessment highlights that soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes and lettuces, are especially vulnerable to shortages as they are largely imported during the winter months.
“While retailers continue to work with their suppliers to maintain stocks of non-perishable goods and plan ahead for any disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit, it is impossible to mitigate it fully as neither retailers nor consumers can stockpile fresh foods,’ the spokesperson continued.
“The reality remains that a no-deal Brexit in October would present the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there. Retailers will be preparing for Christmas, stretching already limited warehousing capacity, and the UK will be importing the majority of its fresh food from the EU, magnifying the impact of border delays.”
During the interview with Marr, Gove also admitted that some prices on food goods could rise following a no-deal Brexit.
“There are a number of economic factors in play, some prices may go up, other prices will come down,” said Gove.