The UK will start having problems with supplies of fresh vegetables and fruits from Dec. 27 if the UK-France border is not unblocked within the next 24 hours, a parliamentary committee was told on Tuesday afternoon.
To stem the spread of a new variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus detected in the UK, the French government suspended all travel from Britain for 48 hours from 11 p.m. Sunday night (midnight Paris time), including travel linked to goods transported by road, air, sea, or rail.
British retailers have urged the government to prevent prolonged suspension of cross-Channel transport, which they say would disrupt supplies of fresh produce to UK consumers.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), a business group representing the retail industry, said the UK is heavily dependent on continental Europe for fresh fruits and salad vegetables in the winter season, as such fresh produce is not grown in Britain at this time of the year.
Andrew Opie, BRC director of food and sustainability, told MPs that “everybody’s Christmas dinner is safely here. There’s plenty of food in the country for Christmas so you can shop normally.”
But he said the supplies will become problematic if the border closure if not resolved in the next day or so.
“Unless those borders open fully and the trucks can roll tomorrow back to Spain and Portugal and other parts of Europe, we will have problems with particularly fresh produce on Dec. 27,” Opie told the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
“What we need is for those trucks to start moving within 24 hours, if we are to avoid seeing problems on our shelves,” he said.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the UK’s representative body for the food and beverage manufacturing sector, said the travel ban will affect not just post-Christmas food supplies but also firms’ preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31.
“A lot of companies would have intended to stockpile in that post-Christmas period to allow them to build up buffer stocks of ingredients or finished product, and that may well be compromised,” Ian Wright, FDF chief executive, told MPs.
The border closure is also having a serious impact on British food exports, particularly Scottish seafood destined for the European market, Wright said.
Scottish food exporters said pre-Christmas sales had been “ruined” for some shellfish firms, as their exports are stuck at the port of Dover.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Tuesday evening that an agreement had been reached with the French government over the UK border. However, he said hauliers should still not go to Kent and should await further updates from the government.