Stand-by for war time food rations if there’s a no deal Brexit

A container ship docked at Hamburg

Jonathan Edwards MP

Be careful what you wish for might become the mantra that defines the British Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations.  The Prime Minister has managed to box herself in with her irresponsible red lines but also by her political tactics.

Her battle cry ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ tried to create some sort of negotiating leverage.  Knowing that the EU effectively held all the cards, the British Governments aim was to try and threaten the EU by giving the impression that the British State was prepared to go kamikaze.

The EU knows the British Government is bluffing. Her negotiating tactic is failing miserably.  The only thing it is doing is strengthening the political hand of the Brexit extremists in the Tory European Research Group.

No deal is now a more than possible scenario by default as opposed to design.  As a result the civil service quite rightly has had to escalate planning for the worst possible scenario.

The Prime Minister, in my opinion, would be well advised to take no deal off the political table.  If it remains a plausible scenario when it comes to the meaningful vote, the ERG will vote against whatever fudge the British Government brings back from Brussels. And let’s face it, parliamentary arithmetic is against the Prime Minister.

Taking no deal off the table would send a signal to Brussels that the British Government is serious about negotiating a mutually beneficial deal, it would also significantly neuter the political influence of the ERG.

Island

As things stand a no deal remains a distinct possibility.   One sector where there will be huge consequences is food.

Without a deal, all food exports to and from the EU will grind to a halt. We will become a de-facto third country and all EU rules, regulations and arbitration mechanisms would cease to apply. Our food products will no longer be EU certified.

Cue border checks at UK ports.

Much of the talk of stockpiling and talk of there being insufficient port infrastructure to support third country produce checks has focused on Calais and Devon.

The potential for tailbacks in Holyhead, the main port for our trade with the Republic of Ireland, the UK’s fifth biggest export customer, is arguably even more acute.

Holyhead will not be able to cope. As Prof. Richard Wyn Jones put it “No amount of UK government ‘creativity’ can change the geology and urban landscape of Holyhead, located on a small island just off the main body, Anglesey”.

Our food export and import trading relationship with the EU is based on Just In Time systems. Fresh produce is constantly being transported from producers to consumers, without being stored, just in time for consumption.

The UK is particularly reliant on Just in Time because it is not self-sufficient in food production. Without a deal, experts predict a total breakdown of the Just In Time system within five days. Stand-by for diminished food supplies and war time food rations.

Bendy bananas? We’d be lucky to have bananas!

Severed

Why can’t we just farm more food, you ask?   There has been a distinct lack of focus on food production in UK agricultural policy for decades, and indeed the Labour Welsh Government’s post-Brexit agricultural policy, published only a few weeks ago, seemed to prioritise everything apart from food production.

Some 50 per cent of Welsh upland lamb is exported to the EU on a frictionless, zero tariff basis. 90 per cent of all Welsh meat exports are destined for the EU. The lowest possible tariffs on lamb are 40 per cent under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and they are far higher if the product is frozen or processed in any way.

Severing frictionless access to our biggest market overnight would decimate the already vulnerable farming sector in Wales before it could even begin to contemplate adopting a different business model.

Welsh lamb holds an EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, as does Welsh beef.  This is a mark of its quality and a vital marketing tool. Hybu Cig Cymru estimates that 25 per cent of the growth in Welsh lamb exports between 2003 and 2012 can be directly attributed to its PGI status.

Without a deal, PGI status is meaningless.  On top of that, the Labour Government in Wales has effectively handed over control of this issue to Westminster despite the warnings of farming unions, meaning the Welsh Government can’t even try to mitigate the consequences.

There were recent reports that the army was being put on standby to help deliver food if there are shortages in the wake of a “no deal” Brexit.

Does the British Government actually want to drag the UK through the torment of a world war-like domestic scenario out of sheer stubbornness?

It’s the equivalent of jumping from an ill-fated bomber plane holding nothing but a moth bitten old union jack as a parachute.

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