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By Jason Michael
WE HAVE REACHED THE POINT in the Brexit process where it has become advisable for ordinary people to begin stockpiling basic medicines and non-perishable foods in preparation for a Brexit apocalypse. With senior civil servants and government advisers now referring to the most likely immediate effect of Brexit in terms of an apocalypse scenario, we can no longer think of this as baseless scaremongering or an extension of Project Fear. Half of the United Kingdom’s food is imported from the European Union and, as EU President Donald Tusk has warned, “frictionless trade outside the customs union is impossible.” There can be no doubt, given that both the UK and the EU are preparing for a no-deal scenario, that we are heading into a crisis.
Details of a government report reveal that Theresa May’s government is at present modelling three Brexit scenarios; “mild, severe and Armageddon” – yes, you read that right, “Armageddon.” In the event of a no-deal exit from the European Union – now the most likely outcome of the Article 50 negotiations – the “mild” scenario is a non-starter. Without a trade deal or a contingency plan – which, as yet, does not exist – the UK will be faced with at least a few weeks in which half the basic food and medical demands of the country cannot be met.
Again, it is important to stress at this point that this is not a scare tactic. This is the unavoidable consequence for any state which depends on foreign imports that does not have functioning trade arrangements in operation. This is the what the UK will face in the likely event of a no-deal Brexit. Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury said: “The impact of closing the borders for a few days to the free movement of food would result in a food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen.” When he said this in March he added that it was inconceivable to him there wouldn’t be a solution, but that was five months ago. Things have deteriorated.
Brexit would lead to an unprecedented food shortage if the U.K. leaves the EU without a deal. Not my words but the… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Prof Chris Elliott OBE (@QUBFoodProf) March 02, 2018
In the first weeks and months following a no-deal exit any barriers to trade – which there must be – would significantly disrupt the supply of fresh food to UK retailers, who rely on the unimpeded movement of perishable goods. Notwithstanding the immediate termination of the UK’s £22.4 billion import of meat, fish, dairy, and fruit and vegetables from the EU, and the catastrophic impact this will have on the economy and employment, the stalling of food imports would quickly transform a no-deal scenario into a no-food scenario.
Such a food crisis would have terrifying consequences for people and families already relying on foodbanks for survival. It would drive up the cost of existing food stocks, putting many more people and families on the breadline. Years of economic austerity; social welfare and healthcare cuts have ensured that the UK is in no position to weather either of the two foreseeable scenarios. The severe scenario – outlined above – will create food and pharmaceutical shortages “the likes of which we haven’t seen;” not even during the Second World War. An “Armageddon” scenario is self-explanatory: Within a matter of days the UK will run out of food and essential medicines.
At this stage of the negotiations; where we have seen the near collapse of the British government under the pressure of Brexit, as far as anyone can gather, the Prime Minister is banking on some sort of deus ex machina salvation in the shape of a trade deal with the United States. Had Mrs May been willing to listen to the German government she might better appreciate the worrying reality that we “can no longer fully rely on the White House.” Putting our trust in the Trump administration – especially in matters of foreign trade – may well prove to be the single biggest mistake the British government has ever made. Just how has Trump treated NAFTA and Canada, the US’ most important trade partner? The UK cannot afford to put blind faith in the United States at a time like this.
Even in the event that an eleventh-hour trade deal is signed with the US it will come at a massive cost to food standards and to the NHS. “Food” in the United States seldom meets the current and most basic food standards and safety regulations in the UK and Europe. Much of what the US public consume is not even considered nutritious under EU and UK law. In order to import food from the United States the UK would be forced to change the law, allowing food stuffs to be imported which most farmers and pet owners in the UK wouldn’t consider feeding to their animals.
How can a United Kingdom faced with a food crisis of this apocalyptic magnitude manage to keep the National Health Service functioning – even in the poor condition it is now – while importing drugs and medical supplies from the US, at US prices? We simply cannot afford to buy the quality of pharmaceuticals we do from EU manufacturers from the US. Drugs for everything from asthma and epilepsy to cancer and you name it will become unaffordable to all but the wealthy. To maintain the standard of care we have at present in the NHS the government would be forced to reverse all the cuts and begin pumping in much more money. Other than the fact that paying for this will be beyond the means of the UK government, it is unlikely in the extreme the Conservative government in London will put anything at all into the NHS.
Supporters of a hard Brexit will no doubt see this as yet another scare story. But their opinion that everything will be alright, that we will weather this storm as we did the Blitz, is a form of magical thinking. This is what happens without trade deals. It is analogous to having no money and no access to a supermarket – the fridge and presses will not fill up by magic. Without a trade deal the UK will run out of food. This is an economic and mathematical certainty. The time to “wake up” has come and gone. This is not a drill. If things continue as they are – and it looks like they will – we will be faced with extreme food and pharmaceutical shortages and people will die.
Empty Shelves: Brexit could lead to food shortages in the UK