Brexpiling for no deal

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With no deal brexit looking very likely, the UK is being hit by another wave of brexit stockpiling. Wonderful how brexit created new words, brexodus (EU citizens abandoning the sinking ship), brexsplaining (trying to explain to some demented leave voter that unicorns don’t exist and the EU is not run by the lizardmen) and brexpiling, stockpiling for a no deal.

But, I’ve heard it suggested that we shouldn’t stockpile for brexit because it will effect the poor, who’ll not be able to afford to do so. And panic buying out of fear of shortages could become a self fulfilling prophecy. If everyone runs down to the supermarket and starts grabbing everything in sight, at the same time ports are struggling to ship in supplies, then there will be shortages.

My take on this is that actually stockpiling is perfectly sensible, just don’t go mad. Not stockpiling after all means you trust the nice man from the government to know what he’s doing. And as I’ve mentioned before, the maths don’t look encouraging. Although too be honest if you haven’t made provisions for a no deal brexit by now, you’ve probably left it too late.

I’ve always had a stockpile of food and other supplies at home (some tinned & freeze dried food, camping stove, head torches with spare batteries, med kit, usual) to cover certain contingencies, ranging from bad winter weather, power cuts, to me being lazy and not bothered to go out shopping. I’d argue this is something any responsible grown up should have. Although admittedly given that I do go camping from time to time, its not a like any of these supplies are going to go to waste.

What I’ve simply done is extend this floating stockpile to cover other items that might become scarce or expensive post-brexit (basically anything we are dependant on the EU for). I’ve done this by just buying two of any vulnerable items I happened to be buying, and gradually building up a floating reserve. I’ve also made sure to have an ample supply of items that will likely run out straight away such as Barry’s Tea, Tayto crisps, Irish mustard and a few bottles of any particular alcoholic beverages I might be partial too (got to get the priorities right!).

Exports-imports

The likely scenario, based on leaked government reports (so more project reality than project fear) is that after a no deal brexit there may be shortages of certain items for a few months. Notably anything perishable but difficult to store (fresh fruit and veg, bread, etc. in other words the stuff you can’t really stockpile), although more durable items (cereals, tinned or frozen food) will probably still be available. That said, there will be large gaps on the shelves (hard to be specific, pretty much everything from washing powders to medicines could be effected), as shops won’t be able to restock as easily as they used to before (given trucks will be spending several days in a queue at Calais). The number of choices available will diminish and prices will increase significantly, far more than the rises we’ve already seen.

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And no the government setting tariffs to zero doesn’t help much, in fact it could make things worse. The higher costs reflects not just the tariffs but the lower value of the pound (making it more expensive to buy things in from abroad), the cost of filling out all that extra paperwork and the cost of having a truck sit in a queue for several days. Plus the fact that trucking companies will be reluctant to have a truck effectively parked for several days when it could be making money, so they’ll charge more to do a cross channel run. The only thing setting tariffs to zero will do is make it harder to negotiate beneficial trade deals and screw over UK farmers.

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How serious any shortages become are largely dependant on the EU (if anyone’s taking control, its them). They are proposing to phase in certain measures gradually. Now they are doing so for their own benefit, so they’ll be acting unilaterally without consulting the UK. For example at some point they will decide that UK lorry drivers can’t drive on EU roads without an international driving permit….and there’s two different types covering different parts of the EU (which only covers them for a year), insurance with an EU based firm (more paperwork and more expense!)….and they’ll also need a community license, of which they only issue a limited number per year to non-EU drivers.

In addition there’s a certain X factor to be considered, as issues currently flying under the radar may end up having an unexpectedly serious impact. For example, a product that should be safe from disruption (whisky or beer) might be prone to severe shortages due to a lack of key ingredients (a brewer did mention to me he’s been stockpiling hops as his suppliers are in the EU).

And the government’s crowd friendly, but reckless decision, to bring in immigration controls immediately will probably have a range of serious consequences. As noted, the UK will be heavily dependant on foreign lorry drivers after brexit, so if they are also going to have to go through immigration checks, well you can add a couple of days onto that wait time (a delay of only a few minutes more per truck translates into a massive increase in the queue and hence it takes hours or days longer to get to the front). The UK’s food production is heavily dependant also on EU citizens, notably seasonal workers on UK farms. So any interruption to them coming over will have an immediate impact on food supplies (read a collapse in animal welfare standards followed by mass cullings, crops left to rot in fields, etc.).

And note these conditions won’t simply last for a few weeks or months and then everything will be fine. The worst of the shortages will hit shortly after brexit yes (likely in the run up to Christmas itself), but sporadic shortages will still be a thing afterwards. This will become the new normal. I’m just about old enough to remember what life was like outside of the single market and that’s what’s going to be imposed on us come the 1st of November.

So what we’ll be facing post-brexit will be sporadic shortages and sudden prices rises and a general lowering of standards. You’ll go to the supermarket one day and find they are out of fresh tomatoes, but the place down the road has them, but they are a bit manky or they are just very expensive. Next week, plenty of tomatoes (being sold at a discount so they can shift them before they go off), but no bananas and no aspirin.

What you want might not be available, so you’ll either have to wait (hence the value of a stockpile) or devoting your weekend and days off to shopping around. You might even need to wait until you are going on holiday to stock up (I recall the days as a kid when we’d be back and forth from Ireland to the UK with suitcases or cars crammed with contraband!). You can’t simply expect any more to head down to a supermarket and that what you ever you want will fall into your outstretched hand, at a low price and be of good quality.

Given those circumstances I think you can see the benefits of a well stocked larder. That way if for example you run out of bog roll (one of the items vulnerable to disruption) you’ll be able to avoid the indignity of having to wipe your arse with pages of the Daily Mail (I’ve previously worked out they provide the maximum sheets of paper per cost). Yes you’ll have to replenish your stockpile eventually, but it gives you a bit more flexibility as to when you choose to do so.

What’s that? We’ll get a super trade deal off the US and we can get lots of their cheap chlorinated chicken and meat pumped full of hormones (assuming we agree to sell Trump the Isle of Wight or something). Well you do realise that America is the other side of this thing called “the Atlantic”. It takes several days for ships to travel across and supplies can’t be disrupted by bad weather. And storms tend to be at their worst in winter, which is when the UK is most dependant on food imports. Furthermore most transatlantic shipping bound for the UK currently goes through Rotterdam. So until new port facilities are built, we’re stuffed. So in order to cope, it would be necessary to have large warehouses in the UK to create a floating stock of supplies, which will increase the costs and those costs get passed on to shoppers.

And the price we pay at the till is generally set on a supply and demand basis. Yes the retailer might be getting buying it cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll sell it on cheaply. And frankly, some of that American food I won’t feed to a dog. And given that rules of origin labelling will have been done away with, it will be nearly impossible to tell what’s made in the UK or made in the US, other than buying directly off of farmers (at a farmers market for example, of course that’s kind of expensive). On the plus side, it might encourage more Brit’s to go vegan….if they can afford it!

In fact, given how dependant the UK is on supplies of fresh fruit and veg shipped in from the EU, its here where we are going to get screwed. The US has long subsidised unhealthy calories (i.e. meat and sugar) at the expense of healthy foods (I recall noting while I was there that a pack of burgers or Twinkies cost less than a piece of fruit), so they won’t be much help. Even those coming from beyond the EU are dependant on trade deals signed via the EU (which become void on the 1st of November). And a US trade deal could complicate things, as the US might block any such deals (fearing for example a route via which pathogens can work their way back to the US) and visa versa.

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Of course masses of people, notably those on low income, being forced by a lack of availability and high prices, to switch to a poorer quality diet, with more fatty foods, that isn’t as safe and of a poorer standard, that’s inevitably going to lead to more deaths. And we are talking thousands of extra deaths per year. That is the price of brexit (I don’t know, maybe after all the old brexiters have died off and the UK rejoins we’ll have to put up a monument to those killed by brexit).

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So yes the poor are going to get screwed by brexit, unfortunately that’s inevitable, nothing we can do about that, other than try to get brexit stopped (or contributing to charities). Stockpiling, so long as you’ve had the good sense to do it months ago, isn’t going to chance anything. What you are merely doing is creating a safety net to cushion the blow. But unless you plan on buying a lifetime supply of food between now and Halloween (or maybe take up squirrel hunting!) you can’t really stockpile your way out of this situation. Personally, I’m just going to make a habit of visiting the folks back in Ireland and bringing a bigger suitcase!

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