Food Fiasco: M&S warns of Brexit food crisis

September 26, 2021

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Marks & Spencer have warned that the incoming Brexit import rules will result in increased food prices, a decrease in the range of products and more food waste as the UK is not prepared for the approaching transition.

What does this mean?

On 1 October 2021, the current grace period allowing businesses to get used to changes in export rules from the EU to the UK will end, and the new Brexit rules on goods will come into force. M&S’ executive board have issued a letter to its European suppliers, suggesting that the UK and EU are ill-prepared for the transition due to a multitude of reasons. Primarily, it stressed that in some EU states, offices regulating paperwork for Export Health Certificates were not open outside of weekday business hours. This could result in “significant disruption” to imports, as the certificates are needed for trade in animal products. M&S also suggest that there are insufficient vets for essential checks, a lack of translation of rules into local languages, and overall unpreparedness by governments regulating the process.

M&S is one of many retailers who have had issues with supply chain troubles lately. In particular, the meat sector has been severely hit by the “pingdemic” (click here) and haulier shortages, with KFC and Nando’s (click here) either having to shut its stores or having to cut down its menus. McDonald’s and Wetherspoons have not escaped the issues, with the hospitality giants announcing shortages in milkshakes, food items and multiple different brands of beers.

What's the big picture effect?

In light of COVID-19, the incoming import crisis has the potential to cause even more disruption across England, Scotland, Wales and in particular, Northern Ireland. Economists predict that the growing supply chain crisis will postpone the UK’s ability to recover from the pandemic, despite consumers being more willing to spend than ever.

 25% of all UK food imports come from the EU, and therefore, any significant delays could be catastrophic to the UK’s ability to feed its nations. M&S has already warned that post-Brexit custom checks to Northern Ireland will leave “gaps on the shelves” and noticeable cuts to its Christmas range. Once the Northern Irish grace period ends, the previously seen light-touch checks will end, and more heavy-handed checks will be introduced. As a result, law firms will be called in to support businesses with increased paperwork, making sure both EU and UK counterparts comply with the new regulations and guiding businesses through the hiccups that are sure to come. 

Going forward, these difficulties must be ironed out as “modern food systems rely on importing food seven days a week”. Consequently, M&S has suggested that as “nothing has changed since Brexit”, a digital scheme should be introduced and an agreement between the UK and EU must be made to maintain standards across the board. Therefore, one must hope that the UK government modernises itself rapidly in order to save itself from breaking down, and hence, bringing its citizens down with it.

Report written by Sofia Antipatis 

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