‘Rotting food’ fears grow on Brexit

Ravender Sembhy

Asda’s chief executive has added his voice to a chorus of supermarket bosses warning a hard Brexit could leave food rotting at the border and have severe financial implications for the sector.

Roger Burnley said anything disrupting established food supply chains, currently governed by EU customs arrangements, would have “significant consequences”.

“What would be scary is the prospect of any hold up at the border. Any prospect of a hold up — that includes the southern Ireland border — would have very significant consequences.

“You’d be eating into the life of products with all sorts of implications for waste, for freshness, for quality,” he said.

Businesses such as Airbus and BMW have become increasingly vocal on the impact of Brexit, calling for urgent clarity as the British government continues to dither over its position.

Mike Coupe, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, which is merging with Asda, has also issued a similar warning regarding the impact of customs delays.

Tesco boss Dave Lewis has warned that tariffs, which could be levied in the event of a no-deal Brexit, would see everyday prices rise.

The British Retail Consortium and a host of other organisations have also said that food prices could rocket if the UK government botches Brexit.

Mr Burnley pointed to the Republic — whose border has emerged as a bone of contention in the Brexit debate — as a key flashpoint for Walmart-owned Asda.

“Like any business, we all want certainty and to know what is happening, but... we want hassle-free frictionless borders, it’s number one on my list.

“A lot of our meat comes from Ireland, the prospect of a border control that slowed things down there would be quite dramatic on that part of our business.”

An internal UK government study has shown that the UK could be hit with food shortages within weeks of leaving the EU if a Brexit deal is not reached.

Hopes have been raised of avoiding a hard border after Theresa May’s summit at Chequers. Asked whether the British government would reach a satisfactory deal with the EU before Brexit day, Mr Burnley said: “I’m hopeful.”

Press Association

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