Britain has been warned by the German government that its food producers might stop delivering to the UK rather than risk their goods getting caught up in bottlenecks at ports in a no-deal Brexit, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
It is understood the warning was issued in recent meetings between officials from the country's agriculture ministry and the British Foreign Office.
According to a diplomatic source, German officials expressed their frustration at how the Brexit negotiations had gone and said that food businesses in Germany "expected" huge delays at the borders. They said that despite the industry's efforts to prepare, the delays, coupled with any rise in tariffs, could persuade food producers to focus on other markets.
The warning will add to fears of food shortages in the UK in a disruptive no-deal scenario. Although the government has taken steps to keep cross-channel trade flowing — including temporarily removing tariffs on most imports from the bloc, even though they will apply to British goods heading in the other direction — trade experts say there’s a serious risk that food supplies will be disrupted. Around 30% of British food comes from the EU, including nearly 40% of fruit and vegetables.
Recently leaked Cabinet Office documents, named Operation Yellowhammer, stated that the flow of freight lorries could be reduced to "40-60%" of current levels on the main crossing between Britain and France. The documents also stated that supplies of certain types of fresh food would decrease, while the food production chain would be hit, with impacts on packaging and preservatives.
Germany is one of the major food exporters to Britain, responsible for around 14% of major food and drink imports. It exports over €700 million worth of meats, and the same value of fruit and vegetables, to the UK every year.
A spokesperson for the German agriculture ministry said: "One thing is clear for us: Citizens and governments of the EU member states don't want a hard Brexit. But the time is getting shorter. That's why the worries of the agricultural and forestry sector are valid. Therefore, we've been taking the threat of a no-deal Brexit very seriously for a very long time now. "
They went on to say that the "deep-sea fishery", "meat", and "dairy" sectors would be affected. "We think the close economic ties to the UK should remain in force. Chaos should be avoided as far as possible," they added.
While a no-deal Brexit is expected to raise import tariffs, food industry insiders point out they are likely to be paid by importers — the supply chain will pick up some of the cost, but the consumer is also likely to be hit.
The UK Trade Policy Observatory’s modelling has predicted price increases of 5.8% for meat, 8.1% for dairy products, 4% for vegetables, 3.1% for fruit, 1.8% for bread and cereals, and 1.5% for fish — but ministers have argued the impact will be "marginal".
A UK government spokesperson said: "We have a highly resilient food supply chain in the UK, and this will continue to be the case when we leave the EU on Oct. 31.
“We’ve allocated an additional £2.1 billion for no-deal Brexit preparations, doubling funding for this year — and just this week, we announced that we have made an extra £9 million available to ensure local areas and major ports are ready for Brexit.
”These funds will accelerate preparations at the border, ensuring the smoothest possible flow of food and other goods to and from our European and global trading partners."