Food, fuel and drug supplies at no-deal Brexit risk, Government warns

Article by Adam Duckett

THE UK Government has warned in a document it has been forced to disclose that a no-deal Brexit could result in disruptions to food, fuel and drug supplies; though water companies are well prepared.

The findings are listed in a five-page document dated 2 August that forms part of the Government’s contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit, code-named “Operation Yellowhammer”. Parliament has forced Government to release the report, which Michael Gove, Minister in Charge of No-Deal Planning for Brexit, has said are “projections of what may happen in a worst-case scenario and they are designed to help Government take the necessary steps to ensure that we can be ready in every situation.”

It predicts that EU controls on UK goods combined with a lack of trader readiness could reduce the flow of heavy-goods vehicles through French ports by 40–60%, which in turn could hold up trucks for up to 2.5 days. This will hit fresh food supplies, and the food supply chain may find key input ingredients, chemicals and packaging in shorter supply. It cautions however, that an overall shortage of food is not expected rather there will be a lack of choice and an increase in prices, which would impact vulnerable groups.

Refinery redaction

The text of the report closely matches one leaked in August to the Sunday Times, though contains a section redacted by the Government on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.      Sunday Times Senior Reporter Rosamund Urwin said on Twitter that the missing paragraph is a warning that fuel tariffs will make refineries uncompetitive leading to significant financial losses, the closure of two refineries and the loss of around 2,000 jobs.

The only mention in the latest report about fuel is that border delays could affect fuel distribution within local areas “particularly if traffic queues in Kent block the Dartford crossing, which would disrupt fuel supply in London and the South-east.”

Reacting to the redaction, Tony Devlin, National Officer of the Unite union said: “It appears the Government is once again suppressing information that a no-deal Brexit won’t cause huge issues for the short- and long-term supply of fuel in the UK.”

Others have been less concerned, with refinery trade group UKPIA saying last month that it does not anticipate any fuel supply disruptions as a result of no-deal Brexit; and experts from energy consultants casting doubts over warnings that refineries would close.

The Government expects there will be no disruption to electricity or gas supplies through interconnectors with the EU, though says there will likely be significant electricity price increases for homes and businesses.

Bitter pill

It warns that medicines are particularly vulnerable to severe and extended delays as 75% of supplies are imported across the Channel through Dover and Folkestone.

Responding to these concerns, Sheuli Porkess, Director of Research, Medical and Innovation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “Companies have been planning for the scenarios in this report for many months, including increasing stocks and planning alternative supply routes where possible - stockpiling is just part of this detailed planning.”

Water plans

There is positive news on water supplies, which are likely to remain largely unaffected due to action being taken by water companies. It says the most significant single risk is a failure in the chemical supply chain though the likelihood of this occurring is considered low and the impact is likely to be localised.

“Water companies are well prepared for any disruption; they have significant stocks of all critical chemicals, extensive monitoring of their chemical supply chains (including transportation and all deliveries) and mutual agreements in place,” the report reads.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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