Prime Minister Boris Johnson may want Brexit to happen at the end of this month “no matter what” but for Britain’s food market the timing could not be more challenging, according to MD Alex Demetriou off procurement business group Regency Purchasing.
Industry insiders claim November is probably the worst time of the year for Britain to leave the EU in terms of impact on the food supply chain, however, Mr Demetriou said a June or July departure would give Britain a much better chance of sustaining itself from home-grown produce.
“The period between November and April is the time when the UK relies heavily on the EU, as well as America and Africa, for a huge number of food group imports, including the majority of fruit and vegetables.The best time to leave would be June or July, when our domestic growing season peaks and we have far less reliance on imports.” He said.
But leaving in November, could lead to shortages of some products and higher prices for consumers.
Mr Demetriou warned: “The Government is looking to end decades of complex commercial agreements with nothing to replace them.
“We are anticipating a further devaluation of the pound when we eventually leave the EU, so this will add to the challenges facing the nation.
“There are also many considerations around tariffs, and in particular the trade between the UK and EU which has been tariff-free for decades.
“With the weakening of the pound, one advantage of Brexit could be British producers selling more product to the EU.
“For example, the Netherlands had very hot weather this year and, as a result, most of their spinach crop was destroyed.
“The UK farmers filled this gap, which helped our producers create a better average price for their crop. There is a knock-on effect, because the more efficient our growers, the easier it is for them to supply domestic product at a lower, or more reasonable, price.
“However, while this works in a no tariff scenario, in the event of tariffs, this part of the market could be destroyed or diminished, and subsequently increase our domestic pricing.
“The counter argument is that, without this product being exported, the UK will have too much produce at certain times of the year, and the price will reduce.
“Alternatively, farmers may have to diversify into providing different products, leaving question marks over how sustainable this is for farmers.
“There remains a lot of speculation and uncertainty about how Brexit will affect Britain which is one of the reasons why some politicians are advocating that we simply get on with it and delay no further.
“But the feedback from our members within the food production sector is that a June or July departure would be preferable to leaving the EU in November.”
The uncertainty and confusion was further compounded when pub chain Wetherspoon’s cut the price of a pint of beer by 20p, as Chairman Tim Martin was keen to demonstrate that Brexit would not be a disaster for the UK.
He said: “Customers and businesses pay tariffs on thousands of products imported from outside the EU.
“These tariffs are collected by the UK government and sent to Brussels. If we leave the customs union on October 31, the government can end these protectionist tariffs, which will reduce prices in supermarkets and pubs.”
Mr Demetriou warned: “At no point has the government even mentioned passing any savings back to businesses, as Mr Martin suggests. In fact, the savings are likely to be lost due to the exhaustive costs involved in this process over the last three years, and future years as the UK unravels all of its processes and laws.”