Health at risk from no-deal Brexit

A leading academic has called on the government to reveal the full effect of leaving the EU without a deal amid warnings of an “unprecedented impact” on the UK food supply and public health.

Writing in The Lancet, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, warned that a no-deal Brexit could have health implications if people on low-incomes are unable to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

He suggested that predictions that food prices could rise by as much as 10% were likely to be an underestimate with the supply of fresh produce particularly at risk.

The UK is heavily reliant on the EU for the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as on countries like Egypt and Morocco with which the EU has free trade agreements. November is at the end of the UK agricultural growing season, meaning the availability of domestic fresh produce will decline.

“The UK produces only 12% of the fruit and 55% of vegetables consumed here, and consumption levels are already known by government to be woefully inadequate for health, said Lang. “Disruption on this scale will have public health impacts, and will inevitably hit the poorest hardest. It cannot go unchallenged.”

Lang called on the government to come clean to the public about the full extent of its planning assumptions in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which it has developed using its own and industry information.

Road hauliers are being urged to register and complete border paperwork to minimise delays at border crossings, but the UK Government’s planning assumption is now that at least half the trucks might be unable to have smooth border transit. “If so, the flow of trucks through the main UK ports, notably Dover, could drop by a third or more within one day of a no-deal Brexit. If this level of disruption continued for 2-3 months, the effects would be unprecedented in peacetime,” wrote Lang.

A £138m “Prepare for Brexit” campaign, including £100m for a public information campaign is about to begin and is designed to reassure the nation. “Will this campaign share the government’s actual prognoses for what will happen within a day of a no-deal Brexit?” wrote Lang.

He suggested the government’s rationale for food secrecy was a fear of panic buying to which just-in-time supply chains are vulnerable.

This week, it was reported that food industry representatives have asked the government to waive aspects of competition law to allow firms to co-ordinate and direct supplies with each other after a no-deal Brexit.

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