Michael Gove claims that fresh food supplies won’t be hit by a no-deal Brexit are “categorically untrue”, the trade body for UK retailers has said.
The cabinet minister responsible for the UK’s preparations for no-deal gave an interview to the BBC on Sunday, saying “there will be no shortages of fresh food” if Britain crashes out of the bloc on October 31.
In a strongly-worded statement issued just minutes later, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said it had been “crystal clear” with government in saying that was not the case.
A spokesman for the body said it is “impossible to mitigate it fully as neither retailers nor consumers can stockpile fresh foods” and that its representatives had repeatedly underlined the reality to ministers.
A no-deal Brexit would be “the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there”, the BRC said.
Pressed by BBC presenter Andrew Marr on whether there would be shortages of fresh food as a result of a no-deal Brexit, Gove dismissed the idea.
“Everyone will have the food they need,” he said.
Asked if food prices would increase, Gove said: “I think that there are a number of economic factors in play.
“Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down.”
A spokesman for the BRC said: “It is categorically untrue that the supply of fresh food will be unaffected under a no-deal Brexit.
“The retail industry has been crystal clear in its communications with government over the past 36 months that the availability of fresh foods will be impacted as a result of checks and delays at the border.
“Indeed, the government’s own assessments showed that the flow of goods through the channel crossings could be reduced by 40-60% from day 1, as would the ‘availability and choice’ of some foods.”
They continued: “The reality remains that a no-deal Brexit in October would present the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there.
“Retailers will be preparing for Christmas, stretching already limited warehousing capacity, and the UK will be importing the majority of its fresh food from the EU, magnifying the impact of border delays.”
The BRC’s estimates that soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes and lettuces, would likely see reduced availability as they are largely imported during the winter months.
Lib Dem MP Tom Brake went on the attack and said Gove had “sold his soul to the devil”.
He said: “We are in real threat of our democracy being silenced.
“This authoritarian power grab must be stopped.
“From shutting down parliament to ignoring expert warnings today from the British Retail Consortium on the danger of food shortages, it appears Michael Gove has sold his soul to the devil.”