Stockpiling food for a no-deal Brexit?
It turns out the UK is not even prepared for the preparations to leave the EU
A no-deal brexit could lead to a sandwich shortage if supplies of ingredients such as chicken and avocado are disrupted
AUGUST 1, 2018
I wondered for a moment whether I’d landed at the wrong airport.
I returned from a recent visit to Beirut to find London consumed by a debate more familiar to conflict-prone Lebanon than serene Britain.
Though I’ve made a few perplexing discoveries about my adopted country since I became a citizen many years ago, few could be more surprising than talk of stockpiling food.
I still have memories of hoarding food.
It is how you adapt to life when you grow up in a civil war: rice, flour, cooking oil, baked beans, canned tuna, tinned corned beef, all nicely tucked away in a kitchen cupboard.
When a ceasefire is called, it is sometimes intended for hurried trips to the grocery store to grab stocks remaining on shelves, often at exorbitant prices.
But here we are, in Brexit Britain, in 2018, talking about stockpiling food.
I don’t see warplanes flying overhead or bombs exploding.
The sun is out and the parks are packed.
The simplest and the fanciest food products are a short walk away at Waitrose.
Yet we are apparently preparing for war.
Not the type of war I am used to, but the result of political feuds and naked ambition that have driven a nation to the brink of self-destruction.
The government is planning for a potential Brexit without a deal with Brussels, a crash out of the EU that could lead to shortages of food, medicines and blood.
There are reports that the army will be enlisted to help with delivery of essential supplies.
According to the BBC, the British sandwich is at risk of being an early victim of supply chain disruption: chicken, lettuce and avocado are all fresh ingredients that could become scarce commodities.
Theresa May, British prime minister, says stockpiling is the “responsible” thing to do.
Her opponents in the hardline Brexiter camp don’t mind crashing out of the EU and are denouncing “project fear 2.0”.
The first “project fear”, you might recall, was the previous Cameron government’s doomsday warnings about the damage Brexit would inflict on the UK economy.
The immediate impact of the Brexit vote was exaggerated, but the long-term cost becomes more apparent by the day.
Every day is greeted with new warnings from business and more staff and company moves to the continent.
Among Europeans I know, the first year after the 2016 EU referendum was a time to reflect, but not to make hasty decisions.
No one knew what Brexit meant and many hoped for a second referendum to reverse the result of the first.
At the end of this school year, there was no longer doubt about the direction of travel: some European professionals have started to pack up and return to Paris, Madrid and Milan.
At least they won’t have to worry about stockpiling. Britain used to be known for order and predictability; it had the appeal of a boringly responsible nation.
Since the Brexit vote, it has lurched from crisis to crisis.
After two years of incompetence — and confusion over how to comply with the will of the people without committing national suicide — Mrs May has unveiled a plan for a future relationship with the EU.
It envisions a customs partnership for goods, a customs union in all but name, and a looser relationship for services.
The proposal is possibly unworkable, while hardline Brexiters are determined to scupper it and the EU is not impressed by it.
But it’s the best Mrs May could pick from a range of bad choices.
Which brings me back to stockpiling.
If Britain leaves the EU without a deal on March 29, 2019, major disruptions at UK borders are to be expected. Contingency planning for no-deal Brexit is prudent, though ensuring that it never happens would be more sensible.
In Brexit Britain, however, even good intentions are poorly executed: the UK, it turns out, is not prepared for Brexit preparations.
As the FT revealed last week, retailers have had no contact with the government over stockpiling food.
Nor do they have the necessary warehouse capacity to do it.
Much of what we consume is fresh produce, in any case.
Perhaps the only planning we can do is to switch to farming — or, more expediently, change our eating habits to ease the shock of a crash.
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