Northern Ireland

Brexit: NI retailers challenge Michael Gove on no-deal food supply

Michael Gove
Image caption Michael Gove was questioned about food supplies on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) has challenged Michael Gove after he said there would be no fresh food shortages after a no-deal Brexit.

"Quite simply, it isn't true," said NIRC director Aodhán Connolly.

He added retailers have been warning the government over the past three years about the likely impact of border checks and delays on food supplies.

Mr Gove said "everyone will have the food they need" in the event Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

But Mr Connolly claimed it could affect lettuce, tomato, and soft fruit supplies.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October, and the government has said this will happen whether or not it has agreed a withdrawal deal with the EU.

Mr Gove is the cabinet minister responsible for leading the government's preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

'Availability issues'

Appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Gove was questioned about the security of fresh food supplies after the 31 October deadline.

"Everyone will have the food they need." Mr Gove said.

He added: "No, there will be no shortages of fresh food."

But Mr Connolly said Mr Gove's reassurance "bears no relations to what our members are telling us nor to what our suppliers further down the supply chain are telling us".

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Media captionNo-deal Brexit 'may affect food supplies'

"The simple fact is that if we crash out with a no-deal Brexit, there are going to be delays; there is going to be extra cost and there is going to be availability issues", Mr Connolly told BBC News NI.

"If you look at that time of year, 90% of lettuce, 80% of tomatoes, 65% of soft fruit come that way [from the EU].

"Now, those are just-in-time supply chains, which means that if there are delays, if there are checks, if there are those complexities that happen because of a no-deal, then the chances of those being on our shelves are greatly lessened.

"Every minute that a lorry is stuck in delays costs a pound, and all that adds up. It adds up, not just for business, but for the Northern Ireland consumer.

"Households here have half of the discretionary income of Great British households, that means if there are cost rises, then we'll feel them first and we'll feel them hardest."

NIRC is affiliated to the British Retail Consortium, which also said Mr Gove's claims on potential fresh food shortages were "categorically untrue".

When asked if food prices would increase, Mr Gove replied: "I think that there are a number of economic factors in play.

"Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down."

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