In Depth

Brexit stockpiling: what people are gathering before 31 October

A third of UK’s food and three-quarters of medicine come via the EU

One in four Britons is taking special precautions to prepare for a no-deal Brexit as the clock ticks down until the 31 October deadline, according to a recent poll.

A total of 9% of people quizzed by Opinium on behalf of The Observer said they were delaying major life decisions, while 7% reported altering travel plans over fears that the UK will crash out of the EU without an agreement. And almost one on ten said they had begun stockpiling goods, including food, medicine and toiletries.

The survey was conducted after leaked government documents warned of “potential consumer panic and food shortages, even in areas which are not directly affected at the border”, in the event of no-deal.

Former Tory leadership contender Michael Gove, who is in charge of no-deal planning, told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that while food prices may go up in the event of a no deal Brexit, “there will be no shortages”.

But media outlets including HuffPost say new research suggests that Brits have already spent £4bn stockpiling goods in preparation for Brexit, with one in five people hoarding food, drinks and medicine, spending an average of £380 each.

However, fact-checking site Full Fact says that figure is probably exaggerated as a result of overestimates by those surveyed.

So should we be worried about shortages - and if so, of what?

Food and drink

More than 40% of the food eaten in the UK is imported, according to Chris Elliott, founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.

And around a third of all the food consumed in Britain comes from EU member states, says Wired.

To give just one example, the UK imported nearly 93,000 tonnes of tariff-free Cheddar from Ireland in 2016. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the imposition of expected tariffs would result in an added import duty that could see consumer prices rise by 50%, a Dairy Industry Ireland report has suggested.

On a more reassuring note, Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, says there will still be enough food to go around. He told Full Fact: “We’re not seeing evidence of individual stockpiling in sales and there’s no need for consumers to do so.

“Retailers have increased stocks of longer life products we typically buy to cope with any disruption. The biggest problem in a no deal Brexit is fresh fruit and vegetables where supplies are likely to be disrupted and it’s impractical for anyone to stockpile.”

That message is in keeping with the stance taken by the Government. In January, a spokesperson said: “People don't need to stockpile food.

“The UK has a strong level of food security built upon a diverse range of sources including strong domestic production and imports from third countries. This will continue to be the case whether we leave the EU with or without a deal.”

However the timing of the October deadline may make finding mass storage space for food and drink harder, with 93.2% of all the warehouse capacity in the UK already filled.

“If you look at the volume of our food and drink imports, one of the reasons 31 October is bad timing is that it’s right at the end of the British growing season,” Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer for the Food and Drink Federation, told Wired.

“It’s the moment at which we switch over to much greater dependence on imports.”

Medicines

The NHS is preparing to stockpile medicines and blood products in case of a no-deal Brexit, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

In July, Hancock told the Health Select Committee that while he was confident a deal would be reached, it was “responsible” to prepare for all outcomes.

“We are working right across government to ensure that the health sector and the industry are prepared and that people's health will be safeguarded in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” he said.

“This includes the chain of medical supplies, vaccines, medical devices, clinical consumables, blood products.

“And I have asked the department to work up options for stockpiling by industry. We are working with industry for the potential need for stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Responding to Hancock's statement, Labour's shadow health secretary Justin Madders said: “We need a Brexit deal which puts patients first but now we know that the NHS is having to stockpile medicines because of this government's chaotic handling of Brexit.”

Almost 75% of medicines in the UK come from or arrive via the EU, reports The Telegraph.

According to the news site, the list of concession-priced medicines - drugs for which the NHS pay a higher than usual tariff - it at its longest since its introduction in 2014.

Leaked documents from NHS England say medicines that have been impossible to stockpile include drugs for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy and chronic pain condition trigeminal neuralgia, reports The Times.

The NHS England website says: “The Government is working closely with the NHS and suppliers to make sure medicines and medical products continue to be available in all scenarios.

“If there are any shortages of medicines after EU Exit, your doctor or pharmacist will advise you of the best alternative to treat your condition, as per normal.”

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