Under cover of Covid, a no-deal Brexit has become more likely than ever. And, given the government's almost uniformly awful handing of the pandemic (the PPE debacle, the U-turns, the messaging inconsistencies, the lack of accountability among ministers and their advisors for some dubious actions) nobody can seriously have faith in its ability to negotiate a fast and mutually beneficial Brexit deal with the European Union.
According to an article on The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) website "The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has exposed fundamental weaknesses in UK society. Some fragile systems, such as social care, remained in the spotlight as the pandemic developed, but others attracted only fleeting attention—including the food system.”
The article goes on to point out just how fragile the UK’s food supply is, citing among other things the fact that we import 47% of our food and how we depend on a just-in-time supply chain with little capacity to withstand shocks to the system such as the Covid pandemic.
In addition, there is the issue of the health of our population with particular regard to obesity – currently a very high indicator of Covid-related complications and mortality rates. A team from the University of North Carolina looked at data from 75 studies from around the world for their research, including nearly 400,000 patients. They found that people with obesity and Covid-19 were twice as likely to end up in hospital and 74% more likely to be admitted to intensive care. They were also more at risk of dying from the disease caused by coronavirus. If ever there was a time to tackle this particular issue it is right now, with Covid adding its considerable weight to the argument.
The Agriculture Bill 2019-21, the first new legislation on food and farming since exiting the European Union, is currently passing through parliament. The government likes to describe it as a “once in a generation opportunity” to reform farming and food supply. The BMJ says "Comprehensive agricultural reform combined with a package of measures to support economic recovery after the pandemic would help the UK government deliver its commitment to build back stronger and greener, protect the NHS, and tackle obesity. But as it stands, the bill misses the mark.”
Another article this time in Forbes Magazine, points out that a no-deal Brexit may put even more strain on our food supplies than the Covid pandemic with all its shelf-emptying panic. No less a body than the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warns of this very possibility.
It’s frightening to think that a perfect storm of events that threaten our food security may be approaching Britain this winter: a second spike in Covid cases, a deep and prolonged recession, and a no-deal Brexit as the cherry on top. That’s if we will be able to get cherries. At TradeScope we are keeping our ears to the ground with particular regard to how a no-deal Brexit will impact the dried fruit & nuts and beverages industries. We’ll certainly update you on developments (which may be awhile going by 2020 so far) as the end of the UK’s transition period with the EU looms ever larger on the horizon. If you’d like to discuss continuing developments please contact Ted Horton at any time.