The recent CO2 shortage which affected supplies of beer, fizzy drinks, crumpets and pork has given the UK a taste of the chaos a bad Brexit deal would bring, says Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP and Efra select committee member.
The recent CO2 shortage has grabbed the headlines, with dire warnings that the nation is running out of beer, just as the heatwave and World Cup fever have sent demand soaring.
From fizzy drinks, bagged salads and crumpets, to pig and poultry slaughtering, it highlighted not only the vulnerability and fragility of our integrated supply chains, but the potential ramifications of any disruption.
And it’s an ominous sign of things to come post-Brexit, if a future trade deal does not secure the frictionless trade we currently enjoy, or if we exit with no deal.
In just a few days, pubs were running out of some beers, pigs were being bussed from Scotland to slaughterhouses in the North of England and retailers were facing problems delivering frozen food because of a lack of dry ice.
The shortage has shown how we take for granted how seamlessly trade moves between EU countries currently – with 99 per cent of traffic completely unchecked – facilitating ‘just in time’ supply chains which can criss-cross EU countries.
The British Retail Consortium has warned failure to reach a deal will mean new border controls and multiple ‘non-tariff barriers’, through regulatory checks, which could see food rotting at ports, gaps on shelves and failed deliveries.
But even with a deal, if the UK is outside customs union and single market regulations we will revert to third country status – requiring new trading and border arrangements.
Just a two-minute delay on every freight vehicle could result in a 17-mile tailback on both sides of the Channel.
And, just as we saw breweries and abattoirs competing for scarce C02 supplies, very soon we may be facing similar dilemmas because of Brexit.
Should more limited space on cross-channel transport give priority to fish from Scotland headed for European markets or car parts bound for Germany?
The Government is apparently considering the option of opening our borders and allowing in imports un-inspected, to keep traffic moving, especially on roll-on/roll-off ports such as Dover, in the hope that the EU will reciprocate. This would carry a heavy risk.
Any breach in biosecurity, which could result from allowing in diseased plants or cattle, could fatally harm future exports of UK products if other countries feel they can no longer trust our inspections.
It’s highly unlikely in any case that the EU would allow such a gaping backdoor for illegal products.
I fear the Prime Minister’s latest ‘Chequers’ plan is unworkable. If it doesn’t achieve free movement of goods, we urgently need a better Plan B than ‘no deal’.
Otherwise British consumers and producers could find themselves short of far more than carbon dioxide.