Food and drink supplies in the UK face more disruption after the end of the Brexit transition period than they did from Covid, the industry has said.
“There are 14 [working] days to go,” the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) chief executive, Ian Wright, told MPs.
“How on earth can traders prepare in this environment?” he added.
Uncertainty over a deal and new border checks would make it difficult to guarantee the movement of food through ports without delays, he said.
Noting that rules for sending goods from Welsh ports to Northern Ireland had only just been published, he said: “It’s too late, baby.”
Mr Wright was giving evidence to the Commons business committee on Brexit preparedness.
He said there was a big concern that the problems would “erode the confidence of shoppers in the supply chain”.
“It has done very well over Covid and shoppers will expect the same thing over Brexit, and they may not see it.”
“We can’t be absolutely certain about the movement of food from the EU to the UK from 1 January for two reasons,” Mr Wright said.
“One is checks at the border. The other is tariffs, and the problem with tariffs is, we don’t know what they will be.”
Mr Wright added: “With just 14 working days to go, we have no clue what’s going to happen in terms of whether we do or don’t face tariffs.
“And that isn’t just a big imposition. It’s a binary choice as to whether you do business in most cases. My members will not know whether they’re exporting their products after 1 January, or whether they’ll be able to afford to import them and charge the price that the tariff will dictate.”
Mr Wright warned that while he expected Kent and Operation Brock to work “reasonably well”, he was less confident about ports such as Holyhead, with goods heading to Northern Ireland.
He called the Northern Ireland protocol a “complete shambles”, adding: “The idea that you can prepare for something as big as the change that’s going to happen is ridiculous, it’s a massive toll.”
Mr Wright added that 43% of FDF members who supply Northern Ireland have said they were not going to do so in the first three months of next year.
He told MPs that many companies had lost some of their customer base in the EU.
“The problem is, if there’s any disruption to supply, you lose your customer pretty quickly and you do not get them back,” he added.
Published at Tue, 08 Dec 2020 12:43:53 +0000