Food retailers: disorderly Brexit will be worse than covid

“We can’t do anything if we can’t get the food into the country.”

Kolforn (Wikimedia) / CC BY-SA (
Share this article

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee met last Friday by video conference and took evidence from Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) as part of their inquiry into panic buying in supermarkets in March this year during the covid-19 crisis.

The cross-party committee is also looking at the relationship between food suppliers and retailers, and the rise in food prices seen by consumers. The BRC represents all the major supermarkets with the exception of Tesco.

Mr Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, warned the committee about the consequences of a disorderly Brexit.

“If we thought [covid-19] was a problem I think we should start looking forward to a disorderly Brexit in January. If we get a disorderly Brexit we potentially face a bigger challenge than the food supply chain faced in covid.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC giving evidence by video link to the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee, 5 June 2020

During the pandemic, he said, “we had no problem getting food into this country at anytime, in fact Italy increased its pasta production during its worst time and sent more to us because the borders were flowing.”

“If we see the borders disrupted in January with a disorderly Brexit then we’ve got a big problem because then we won’t have the food in the country to move around”

Andrew Opie, BRC, 5 june 2020 before the EFRA select committee

“We need an orderly Brexit that allows food to flow, particularly across the Channel straits where I think 90 per cent of our lettuces, 80 per cent of our tomatoes and 70 per cent of our soft fruit comes from in January, otherwise we won’t have the food to move onto our stores.”

Mr Opie praised the workforce in the UK food supply network who he said were “brilliant” but he warned, “We can’t do anything if we can’t get the food into the country.”

More articles on food and farming from Yorkshire Bylines.

Can you help us reach more readers?