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The British government's first disaster of 2021? A food shortage

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A few days ago, I carried out a small experiment. I sent almost identical requests to two government departments.

I asked the business department whether the UK holds strategic oil reserves. Yes: the UK keeps stocks equivalent to 90 days of net imports. I asked the environment department whether the UK holds strategic food reserves. No: they aren’t necessary, because “the UK has a highly resilient food supply chain”. The government treats oil as a strategic asset but food as a matter for the market.

So what happens if our “highly resilient food supply chain” breaks after Brexit transition, on 1 January? It won’t, the government promised. “Our risk assessments show there will not be an overall shortage of food in the UK,” whether or not there’s a deal. But when I pressed it to show me these risk assessments, the plural turned out to be misleading. There’s just one assessment: a “reasonable worst-case scenario” for the UK’s borders.

This is grim enough. It suggests that the flow of freight through the ports could be reduced by between 20% and 40%, while trucks travelling in either direction could be delayed by up to two days: a big problem for fresh food. This month, the National Audit Office reviewed the government’s border arrangements, and found them to be late, untested, “inherently complex”, “high-risk” and “very challenging”. The government’s brinkmanship, intended to wrongfoot the EU, has instead wrongfooted our own hauliers and traders, who have been unable to prepare with confidence.

So far, so bad. But the UK’s........

© The Guardian

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