Leaving the Brexit transition period without an EU trade deal would be ‘a cakewalk’ for the food industry in comparison to the pandemic, National Food Strategy (NFS) chief Henry Dimbleby has said.
Mr Dimbleby’s remarks came just weeks after Defra Secretary George Eustice told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee that the coronavirus crisis had demonstrated how resilient the UK’s food system is.
The pair’s confidence is not shared by industry bodies, which have consistently warned of the damage a no-deal Brexit could do, particularly to the sheep sector, that sends 97 per cent of its exports to the EU and would face crippling tariffs.
As Defra’s lead non-executive director on no-deal planning, Mr Dimbleby had sight of all the Government’s preparations in this area, and was also part of the daily Covid-19 supply chain meetings being held at the height of the pandemic.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the publication of the NFS, he said: “Covid made the worst-case scenarios of Brexit look like a cakewalk.
“With the amount of work we have now done on the supply chain, I am relatively comfortable that a no-deal scenario is not going to cause massive problems.
“The biggest issue would be if there was a fouling up of the short straits, and that was the biggest issue with Covid.
“I may be over-optimistic, but I cannot see a situation where the Governments of Europe and the UK would allow food not to get from one to the other.
“There is too much money passing hands in one direction and too much reliance on food in the other direction.”
Last week, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, said the country must accept the possibility of not reaching a deal with the EU after little progress was made on key sticking points in the latest round of talks.