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Defra refuses to give MP details of disruptions to food supplies in a no-deal Brexit

The Government has refused to disclose details to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas about food supplies to vulnerable people in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Picture: Courtesy of Caroline Lucas MP

Picture: Courtesy of Caroline Lucas MP

The Government argued that the information needed to be withheld in order for the “UK to be able to successfully pursue our national interests” in EU negotiations.

Caroline Lucas, who resorted to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request when her attempt to secure information in Parliament failed, condemned the Government’s actions as “reckless and irresponsible”.

Caroline Lucas MP said:

We have every right to know what Ministers know about disruption to food supplies and prices in the event of a no deal Brexit. Yet this Government is shamefully withholding this basic information, whilst their attempted reassurances directly contradict what the food industry itself is saying.”

The Government’s private concerns about food supplies were revealed when the Government was forced by a vote in Parliament to publish Operation Yellowhammer no-deal Brexit contingecy plannning papers in September 2019. Publicly, the Minister in charge of ‘no deal’ Brexit, Rt. Hon .Michael Gove MP has tried to reassure the public that there will ‘no shortages of fresh food’– a claim denied by leading food industry representatives.

The Lucas FOI request demanded information on Defra’s discussions about food supplies and prices in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with food industry bodies as well as local resilience forums - the groups involving local authorities and emergency services in planning local responses to a range of different possible crisis scenarios.

Kath Dalmeny, Sustain chief executive, who has been coordinating food aid charities and public sector food organisations to respond to the supply chain disruption and rising food prices that could be caused a no-deal Brexit said:

“We are increasingly worried that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for millions of people on low incomes, who would struggle with predicted food price rises of up to 10 per cent, with no means to stockpile food. Over-stretched food banks and frontline charities could see food donations dry up and it is not clear how caterers in schools, hospitals and care homes would cope with shortages of fresh food and higher prices, lacking the buying power of private companies.

“Other European countries are considering declaring no-deal Brexit a ‘natural disaster’ to trigger emergency funds. Meanwhile, our own government has made unconvincing noises about a 'hardship fund', but has so far failed to publish any detail. The possibility of a national food crisis for millions of vulnerable people is absolutely dismaying.”

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City, University of London said:

“Food always reflects society’s divisions. People on low incomes and in deprived areas have worse access and spend proportionately more of their incomes on food than do the more affluent. The Government is, on the one hand, appealing to ‘Leave’ voters that Brexit is all about ‘taking back control’, while on the other hand, denying people information that it has on how food prices will rise, and how supply disruptions will affect the public. We know from the leaks that the calculations are dire. Its apparent ‘do or die’ policy of pursuing a no-deal Brexit is dangerous – not to the affluent but to the poor it claims to speak for. It knows that fresh fruit and veg almost all comes from and via the EU. As I wrote in my much-cited article in The Lancet, to disrupt this flow of essential nutrients undermines the public health of already at-risk social groups. The truth must come out.”

You can read The Guardian's coverage of the issue here

Sheep farmer. Credit: Cottonbro | Pexels

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Published 16 Sep 2019

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