The UK food industry wants a pause in antitrust law to tackle Brexit food shortages

Key Points
  • Big food suppliers in the U.K. say they should be allowed to work with each other to smooth out any food shortages triggered by Brexit.
  • The U.K. is exiting the European Union on October 31, a time when supermarket stock will already be filling up for Christmas.
Shoppers queue to pay for their shopping in the Tesco Extra superstore on April 20, 2009 in New Malden, Surrey, England.
Oli Scarff | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A leading voice in the UK food industry has called for a temporary pause of competition law to allow firms to work with each other in order to ensure supplies in the event of a "no-deal" Brexit.

Food and Drinks Federation boss Tim Rycroft told the BBC Wednesday that leaving the European Union (EU) without a plan could cause months of disruption in the British food supply chain.

Fycroft told the "Today" program that in the event of a no-deal, there would be "selective shortages" of food that could go on for "weeks or months."

The chief operating officer added that he expected food suppliers to be told by the government to coordinate with each other to ensure continuous supply but warned that any such direction would be against rules set down by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

"We're happy to help, but the CMA can fine companies up to 10% of turnover if they are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour. So, we wouldn't be able to do that without some pretty cast iron reassurances," he said.

A "no-deal" Brexit is where the U.K. would cut ties with the EU without any period of transition or future arrangement in place. It is predicted that such a move could cause delays for goods at U.K. borders as new trade regulations would be enforced by both Britain and the EU.

In July, Fycroft wrote in an article published by the FDF that the timing of the Brexit deadline was another factor that would strain the capabilities of the industry.

"The run up to 31 October 2019 is particularly stark. Food and drink manufacturers will not be able to secure additional frozen and chilled warehousing space or logistics capacity for stockpiling, as the required space is already booked for the peak Christmas production period."

The U.K. Trade Policy Observatory has estimated that a no-deal Brexit would destroy £18.5bn of U.K. food and drink manufacturing. The industry has an annual turnover of £104 billion.

Government figures claim that in 2017, 50% of U.K. food was imported from overseas with 30% coming from EU countries.