‘Bad Brexit’ Could Starve Britain by Next August, Farmers Warn

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. would run out of food by this time next year if a no-deal Brexit forced the nation to rely solely on its own produce, a farmers group warned.

British food supplies would be exhausted by Aug. 7, 2019, if the country ate only its own products from Jan. 1, the National Farmers’ Union said Tuesday, highlighting the U.K.’s reliance on imports from the European Union and other regions. The group called for the government to prioritize food security in Brexit negotiations.

U.K. farming “has the potential to be one of the most impacted sectors from a bad Brexit,” NFU President Minette Batters said. “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. Concerns about the impact of Brexit are rising as Trade Secretary Liam Fox said this weekend that there was a 60 percent chance that no agreement would be struck before the U.K. leaves the EU in March, although a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday that an accord is more likely than not.

The NFU 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 U.K. replaces the EU Common Agricultural policy -- a partnership between farmers and the bloc that provides subsidies and supports food productivity -- to ensure the U.K. industry doesn’t lose out after the departure.

U.K. farmers have been facing other pressures in recent months as Britain experiences an unusually hot summer. High temperatures have raised concerns 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 U.K.’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 U.K. British Retail Consortium said that 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.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.