// UK and EU issue joint statement of extension to post-Brexit trade deal talks
// Ministers reportedly told supermarkets to stockpile food
// BRC says “there is no need for the public to buy more food than usual as the main impact will be on imported fresh produce”
The British Retail Consortium on Sunday said ongoing uncertainty over the UK’s trade deal with the EU was making it harder for firms to prepare for the coming months.
The comment came after the UK and the EU agreed to extend a deadline aimed at reaching a deal on post-Brexit trade.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “responsible at this point to go the extra mile”.
However, Johnson told BBC News the two sides are “still very far part on some key things”, and said the “most likely” course would be an Australian-style trade deal with the EU.
He added that this type of deal “it is not where we wanted to get to but if we have to end up with that solution the UK is more than prepared”.
With talks coming to a head in recent weeks, reports circulated in the last few days that the government had told supermarkets to begin stockpiling food and other essential items.
Food producers have warned there will be shortages of vegetables for three months and emergency planners predict that no-deal could be a catalyst for panic-buying on a scale that could dwarf the coronavirus crisis, according to The Sunday Times.
“There was a conversation a week ago when ministers said prepare for no-deal. This weekend the message is that it’s no-deal,” a senior consultant to one of the UK’s supermarkets told The Sunday Times.
“Supermarkets and ministers are hugely worried about panic-buying. They saw what happened over Covid when people started hoarding toilet rolls and now how quickly it can go wrong.”
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retailers are doing everything they can to prepare for all eventualities on 1st January – increasing the stock of tins, toilet rolls and other longer life products so there will be sufficient supply of essential products.
“While no amount of preparation by retailers can entirely prevent disruption there is no need for the public to buy more food than usual as the main impact will be on imported fresh produce, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, which cannot be stored for long periods by either retailers or consumers.
“Both sides must double down and do what is necessary to agree a zero-tariff agreement, or else it will be the public that pay the price of this failure. With many people’s finances already strained by the economic impact of coronavirus, households can ill-afford a significant rise in food prices.
“For the sake of customers and businesses around the UK, we need a deal in the next three weeks.”