EU and Union flags fly above Parliament Square in central London, Britain. File photo: REUTERS
EU and Union flags fly above Parliament Square in central London, Britain. File photo: REUTERS

London — The UK will run out of food by this time next year if a no-deal Brexit forced it to rely solely on its own produce, a farmers’ group warned.

British food supplies would be exhausted by August 7 2019, if the country ate only its own products from January 1, the National Farmers’ Union said on Tuesday, highlighting the UK’s reliance on imports from the European Union and other regions.

The group called for the government to prioritise food security in Brexit negotiations.

UK farming "has the potential to be one of the most impacted sectors from a bad Brexit", National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said.

Stockpiling of food is not a practical response to a no-deal on Brexit....
UK British Retail Consortium

"A free and frictionless free trade deal with the EU, and access to a reliable and competent workforce for farm businesses, is critical to the future of the sector."

Britain produces just under two-thirds of its own food, according to government figures for 2017, and most of the rest comes from the EU.

Concern about the impact of Brexit is rising as trade secretary Liam Fox said this weekend that there was a 60% chance that no agreement would be struck before the UK leaves the EU in March, although a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that an accord is more likely than not.

The National Farmers’ Union has cautioned that British food production is in long-term decline and called on the government to focus on trying to reverse this.

One key issue is how the UK replaces the EU common agricultural policy — a partnership between farmers and the bloc that provides subsidies and supports food productivity — to ensure the UK industry doesn’t lose out after the departure.

UK farmers have been facing other pressures in recent months as Britain experiences an unusually hot summer. High temperatures have raised concern about crop shortages and changes in climate that could affect production.

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said last month that the government was making contingency plans in case a hard divorce from the EU threatened the UK’s food supplies.

When pushed for details, he told a parliamentary committee: "It would be wrong to consider it as the government doing the stockpiling," suggesting the burden should fall on the food industry.

Following Raab’s comments, the UK British Retail Consortium said the "stockpiling of food is not a practical response to a no-deal on Brexit and industry has not been approached by government to begin planning for this".

Bloomberg