independent– For most Britons, the impact of the UK’s transition to Brexit will first be noticed when they go to the supermarket to stock up on food and drink after the festive break.
With or without a deal, departure from the EU’s single market and customs union is likely to mean stores having to raise prices and may leave them with gaps on the shelves as supplies of certain foods run short.
The UK imports around 45 per cent of its food, with 26 per cent coming from the EU and the remainder from the rest of the world. European imports come mainly from the Netherlands (14 per cent of the total value of EU goods), Germany (11 per cent), Ireland (10 per cent) and France (10 per cent).
That makes Britain vulnerable to the disruption in the flow of traffic from the continent which the government admits is likely due to the additional red tape resulting from Brexit, including more than 200 million extra customs declarations annually.
If no free trade agreement is secured and ratified by 31 December, tariffs averaging 18 per cent will be imposed on food and drink imported from the continent, with retailers likely to pass some if not all of this additional cost onto consumers.
An 18 per cent hike on products making up around a quarter of the typical shopping basket would push the UK’s average £45-a-head weekly spend on food and drink up by around £2.
At the same time, no-deal would mean additional costs averaging 23 per cent on sales to the EU, making UK food and drink exporters less competitive and eating into their profits.
The Food and Drink Federation’s head of international trade Dominic Goudie described a no-deal outcome as “catastrophic” for UK supply chains, and said it was “highly likely” that any additional financial burdens would have to be passed on to consumers.
But even if Boris Johnson gets a deal with Brussels, there will still be a big financial burden on importers and exporters from extra red tape, including customs declarations, health certification and rules of origin checks. If passed on to customers, this alone could push prices up by 3 per cent.
Any rise in food prices will hit the poorest hardest, as food purchases make up the largest proportion of their spending.
And with or without a deal, delays are expected at key ports like Dover and Folkestone, with the government’s own worst-case planning scenario suggesting traffic across the straits could be reduced to 60-80 per cent of normal levels, with waits of as much as two days.