How a No Deal Brexit Could Affect Food in Britain

It is becoming quite clear that a No-Deal Brexit scenario would have a negative impact across many industries in the UK. From farming to pharmaceuticals, car manufacturing to chemicals, technology to higher education, their futures are far from certain. No Deal would be especially damaging for the food industry. Nearly a third of the food in the UK comes from EU countries, which could mean a drastic reduction in the availability of such food products. Timing is crucial for perishable goods, and traders will not have enough storage space to stockpile extensively. This will result in fewer choices and higher prices for customers. What will happen to food in Britain if there is No Deal?

Food Shortages and Stockpiling

Around a quarter of people in the UK have already begun preparing for a No Deal Brexit by stockpiling particular goods. Tinned food, medicines, toiletries, and toilet paper are some of the items which cautious Brits have been buying in bulk. This is due to fears about shortages in the event of a No Deal Brexit in October. Two decades ago, Britain only imported 25% of its food, but now we import up to 40% of our food. This means that we are especially dependent on the EU, which is the source of 1/3 of the food eaten in the UK. Issues with security at borders and trading tariffs following the UK leaving the EU without a deal would result in reductions in food availability. It would primarily affect fresh food and specialist ingredients. There are products such as eggs, potatoes, and carrots which are largely produced in the UK that we should not have problems with. However, there are likely to be shortages of:

  • fresh fruit (peaches, nectarines)
  • fresh vegetables (tomatoes, chillies, spinach)
  • frozen potatoes
  • yoghurt
  • milk
  • cheese
  • pasta
  • rice
  • meat (beef, lamb, bacon, ham)
  • cakes (due to lack of powdered eggs)
  • chocolate
  • wine (prosecco, champagne, cava)


Product Prices Increasing

With panicking consumers stockpiling goods and there already being fewer goods available to buy, it is likely that the cost of limited products will increase. The University of Sussex experts predict that there could be an average price rise of 7% for food if Britain leaves the EU with no deal. Overall, this could end up costing the average family an extra £220 per year. This is not affordable for many people who are already struggling with soaring living costs.

Supermarket Rationing

In order to ensure that consumers are able to get what they need, supermarkets might have to introduce rationing. This means that they will limit the number of particular products that people can buy at once. It is mainly to prevent companies from using supermarkets as wholesalers if they do not have their own post-Brexit supply arrangements in place. The limits should not affect regular consumers unless they are trying to purchase large amounts of goods to stockpile privately. If import levels are too low then larger food retailers will need to enforce volume restrictions on customers. They will have to advertise these on shelves like the usual promotional limits and check at the tills.

Less Surplus for Food Banks

Charities who feed the poor have spoken out concerning the effect a No Deal Brexit would have on their ability to do their work. Food charities such as FareShare redistribute millions of meals from supermarkets and other such suppliers to people in need. However, if there is a shortage of food available, then there will also be a shortage of surplus food for them to redistribute. Logistical delays would also have a negative impact on their redistribution process. Up to 60% of surplus food which FareShare receives is fresh produce – and this would be the type of food most likely to experience shortages. The number of people relying on food banks has increased drastically over the last decade due to government austerity measures. Food banks will not be able to meet public demand, especially if individuals and businesses begin stockpiling. This will mean decreasing donations to food banks which will make the problem worse. The predicted economic recession following a No Deal Brexit would make many more families desperate and increase the pressure on food banks. The government is yet to respond to a request to establish a No Deal Hardship Fund which would provide cash grants to help to support people in food poverty across the UK.

Declining Standards for School Dinners

There has already been widespread concern about the possibility of declining food safety standards after Britain leaves the EU. We currently have some of the highest standards in the world to ensure food safety and quality, but that could change if we no longer have to adhere to EU regulations. The US has much lower standards and hopes to be able to export chlorine-washed chicken and beef with growth hormones to the UK now. Even if this does not happen, though, there will still be a decline in the nutritional standard of UK school dinners. Food shortages would lead to a lack of choice for school meal providers. This would also affect other public service meal providers such as hospitals and care homes. The lack of fresh produce would result in a reliance on frozen and tinned goods for such meal providers. They would have to adapt their menus and reduce nutritional standards according to the food supply. Price increases due to shortages would also mean that these services would require more funding from the government. It would be harder for schoolchildren and those under the care of public services to get healthy meals.

Disastrous Forecast for the Food Industry

The chaos that leaving the EU with no deal for trading regulations would cause for the food industry is a massive concern. Tariffs and delays on imports and exports could seriously damage business for traders. Reports predict that around half of farms in the UK could risk going out of business due to becoming unprofitable in a scenario like this. The disruption could spell disaster for restaurants and hospitality services as well. Research predicts that No Deal Brexit would wipe out £3.4 billion in value for the restaurant sector. Food shortages and higher tariffs could result in job losses and eventual closures for businesses across the industry. High inflation resulting from food shortages would affect traders as well as consumers. The UK food and drink manufacturing industry wants the government to suspend competition law if there is a No Deal Brexit. Large companies can face heavy fines for collusion, but working together is the only way to ensure that food supplies will get to where they are needed.