Britons stockpile as Brexit looms

Business leaders have urged Britain to maintain good relationships.
Business leaders have urged Britain to maintain good relationships.

by NADEEM BADSHAH with agencies

FAMILIES and businesses in Britain are stockpiling food, medicines and essential supplies as the government presses ahead with no-deal preparations ahead of the October 31
deadline to exit the EU.

Ahead of a possible nodeal situation, Britons are reported to have spent £4 billion on groceries, drugs and other household goods.

A survey by finance provider Premium Credit this month showed that 800,000 people have spent more than £1,000 each on stockpiling vital supplies. As fears rise over the impending Brexit deadline, it also claimed that one in five are already hoarding items, spending
an extra £380 each.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly vowed to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal, to the dismay of some lawmakers and business leaders. Opposition leaders
have so far been unable to come up with a credible alternative to stop Britain from crashing out of the EU at the end of October.

According to a leaked government assessment, a no-deal Brexit could potentially cause food, fuel and medicine shortages.

Quoting from the document, The Sunday Times (18) last weekend said British businesses remained largely unprepared for no deal. It also claimed that up to 85 per cent of lorries
using the main Channel crossings may not be ready for French customs, meaning
disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improved.

Prior to the previous March 29 Brexit deadline, the government set up “Operation Yellowhammer” to prepare for disruption in 12 key areas, including food and water supplies, healthcare and transport.

Under the plan, every department has an operational centre – some staffed 24 hours a day – according to the Institute for Government (IfG).

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the main employers’ association, has said many goods firms are now less prepared for a disorderly divorce in October, warning
that stockpiling will be harder in the busy run-up to Christmas.

Many drugs firms have already built up stocks and changed supply routes to reduce disruption, according to the CBI.

But around 28 per cent of food consumed in Britain comes from the EU, and major supermarkets have warned of the risk of disrupted supplies.

The Yellowhammer dossier warns that clean drinking water supplies could be impacted, in turn affecting “hundreds of thousands of people”.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society expressed concern on Monday (19) over the reported medicine shortage risks in the event of a nodeal Brexit.

RPS president Sandra Gidley welcomed government’s steps and efforts to reassure continued access to medicines, but said the organisation is “concerned about the reports over the weekend of the government’s own analysis of the risks of a no-deal Brexit.”

Gidley said RPS is continuing to engage “constructively” with contingency planning discussion.

However, this planning can only go so far to eliminate the strain on the supply chain and increasing pressure on hard-working staff caused by a no-deal Brexit, she added.

Pharmaceutical companies also expressed similar concerns, and some have reserved air freight capacity to fly in supplies if needed.

Earlier this week, an internal local council document seen by the BBC warned that legal school meal nutrition standards may need to be amended, or rejected, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

According to the broadcaster, many councils believe that school meal costs will increase and funding for free school meals will rise if there is no-deal outcome.

In response, the government said the food industry was “well versed at dealing with scenarios that can affect food supply.”

Leading entrepreneur Dr Rami Ranger said the impact of Brexit is being felt now but believes Britain will overcome the short-term pain.

Dr Ranger, founder of the Sun Mark brand, said: “A small majority of the British people who won the referendum feel that they know better than those running the Bank of England, motor industry, CBI, hospitals, supermarkets, farms.

“Our 40-year-old relationship based on mutual cooperation and collaboration cannot be snapped just like that without some ramifications. We will face shortages of daily
use items due to delays at borders and other custom formalities.

“Products will also cost more as many will attract duties. In all, not a happy scenario in the short-term.”

He added: “However, I am hopeful that we will overcome these difficulties in due course as
we are a trading nation going back centuries and we have special relationships with many countries including the Commonwealth. We will quickly forge new alliances and trading partnerships and will prosper.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s office said it did not comment on leaked documents.

Some Asian restaurant bosses are also stockpiling ingredients in case Britain crashes out of the EU.

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit has sent the value of the pound plummeting, sparking a rise in the cost of supplies for takeaways and curry houses.

Business owners said they are buying extra supplies of spices and other goods over fears that prices will rise further if Johnson cannot strike a deal. Most of the lamb, chicken, fresh fruit and vegetables that UK eateries buy comes from Europe, south Asia and New Zealand, experts say.

Syed Ahmed, editor of Curry Life Magazine, told Eastern Eye: “Prices are going up significantly, supply chains are affected. There will be a terrible impact. Most hospitality places want to serve customers fresh ingredients, not ones stocked up for months, so
fresh ingredients is a challenge.

“Everyone is worried, uncertainty is never good for business. You can see the signs already with the prices in supermarkets and markets.”

It comes after Domino’s Pizza announced earlier this month that it is stockpiling £7 million
worth of toppings over the chances of a no deal Brexit.

Many south Asian restaurants are already struggling with a lack of staff with waiters and waitresses from Europe returning home over Brexit and tougher immigration rules on hiring chefs from south Asia.

Ruhul Tarafder runs takeaway Jhal Chilli in Kent and supplies bags and Belgian chocolate to the catering industry. He said a nodeal Brexit on Halloween is the “worst possible scenario” and would horrify the industry.

Tarafder told Eastern Eye: “We don’t know what tariffs are going to be in Europe, the government is going to have to negotiate these taxes as there are no trade deals.

“So many ingredients, packaging, plastic and paper bags are bought from abroad.

“I had to postpone a bag order until after October as the pound has dropped so much, the profit margin has gone. We could get stability, or the pound goes down further, it’s scary times and the industry is already in crisis due to staffing issues.

“Spices are being bought with extra cash because in October if there’s a no-deal [Brexit] prices will be going sky high, the uncertainty causes the panic buying.”

Julianne Ponan is CEO of the Creative Nature health food firm which buys its ingredients from around the world to manufacture in the UK. She said: “We are quite worried as we have containers on the water.

“It’s a big concern with tariffs, are there going to be delays?

“Are the government going to help us with training new staff with documentation (customs
declarations)? Are small businesses like me going to be able to afford to employ someone to take on this role?”

In response to The Sunday Times leak, Michael Gove, the minister in charge of coordinating
“no-deal” preparations, claimed the documents set out a “worstcase scenario” and that planning had been accelerated in the last three weeks.

“It is the case, as everyone knows, that if we do have a nodeal exit there will inevitably be
some disruption, some bumps in the road. That’s why we want a deal,” Gove said.

“But it is also the case that the UK government is far more prepared now than it was in the past, and it’s also important for people to recognise that what’s being described
in these documents is emphatically a worst-case scenario.”

A group of more than 100 lawmakers wrote to Johnson calling for an emergency recall of parliament to discuss the situation.

“We face a national emergency, and parliament must now be recalled in August and sit permanently until October 31 so that the voices of the people can be heard, and there can be proper scrutiny of your government,” the letter said.