UK consumers could face an immediate shortage of some key foods and a startling rise in the price of other products in the event of a no deal Brexit.
That is the stark reality of what could happen in the event that an agreement cannot be reached with the European Union before Brexit happens in March next year.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann has added his voice to those already expressing serious concerns about what the future might hold.
Mr Swann said the recent comments from the UK farming unions about the real dangers of a no deal Brexit were “a timely reminder of the increasingly perilous position we are finding ourselves in in relation to Brexit”.
“I have consistently warned that whilst there are real opportunities with Brexit, if the necessary preparations are not put in place, local agriculture has the most to lose from a bungled final deal,” said Mr Swann. “Now, far from a bad deal, it looks like we may have no deal at all. Such an outcome would be the worst possible outcome for farmers and consumers.”
He added that it was vital the next few months were used to discuss what would happen in the event of a no deal situation.
Mr Swann continued: “Some arch Brexiteers may see getting out of Europe as their only priority, but as someone who also voted leave I did so in the hope that negotiations could have been conducted sensibly and rationally.
“Without wanting to scaremonger, it is important that in these final months of discussions that we actually consider what a no deal Brexit would look like.
“In the event of the UK crashing out of Europe at 11pm on the 29th March 2019, it would mean from the 30th British meat products couldn’t be imported from, or exported to, the EU. In order for the EU to buy such products, they have to come from a country with an approved national body whose facilities have been certified by it. But if there has been no deal, there’ll be no approval.
“There would also see a prospect of major food shortages in our shops. For decades now the UK have grown so accustomed to frictionless EU trade that our food system works mainly on a ‘as we need it’ or ‘just in time’ basis. We don’t store food anymore simply because we didn’t need to. This means that the UK imports around 10,000 containers of food from the EU daily.
“In order to get around what would be wholly untenable food shortages there is a very real prospect that the UK Government would simply try to implement a ‘mutual recognition’ regime. In other words the UK would assume food from the EU was safe to eat and hope that they did the same. There’s absolutely no guarantees however that the EU would accept our food under such circumstances.
“That could mean that overnight the food we previously sent to Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, would simply have no market. That’s a frightening thought for farmers in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Swann said that the UK may choose to look the America as a source of supplies, but cautioned that it would come at a price.
“In the event of shortages of certain food products in the UK there’s a chance we could look west to new potential suppliers in the US. Not only would that mean greater food miles so higher prices, but it also likely wouldn’t be to the same quality as we have become accustomed to,” said Mr Swann.
“Of course in the event of a Brexit crash and challenges importing food, I am confident that the UK market could change to produce more of the food we need to feed ourselves, but that would take years not months to achieve.
“It remains deeply frustrating that now only six months from Brexit the Government has paid so little attention to agri-food in the negotiating process. In fact many Tory MPs have spent far more time rowing among themselves and scrambling for positions than they have even thinking about how farmers and consumers will be supported and protected after Brexit.”