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Fears of empty supermarket shelves after no-deal Brexit are overblown, says new IEA briefing

IEA release report on the effect of a "No-Deal" Brexit on food supply

The Institute of Economic Affairs has launched another briefing in its series of ‘no-deal’ Brexit Fear-Checkers to help separate theoretical risks from reality; Project Fear from Project Fact.

These short briefings look at a particular warning about the impact of leaving the EU without a deal, assess the problem, and outline what can be done to fix it.

The latest briefing examines the claim that a no-deal scenario would result in price increases and food shortages, because of the implementation of tariffs and formalities risk causing chaos at ports and on the road.

Author of the briefing Victoria Hewson – Senior Council for the IEA’s Trade and Competition Unit – highlights the serious risk that companies and the intermediaries that support international trade may not be ready for such changes, which could cause queues and delays.

However, between the modern simplification processes for customs clearance HMRC has pledged to implement and the ‘risk based approached’ the Government and Food Standards Agency plan to adopt, Victoria argues that the risk of empty supermarket shelves is largely overblown.

The problem:

  • The UK imports 30% of its food from the EU, an amount that will be at its peak in March due to low availability of domestic fresh produce at that time of year
  • In a no-deal scenario, traders will be faced with new formalities, including fiscal obligations and regulatory requirements, they may not be prepared to handle
  • Failure to comply with new requirements may cause delays to processing lorries at either end of the channel, quickly causing queues and gridlock, leading perishable food items to spoil and deliveries to not arrive on time.
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