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Retailers prepare for no-deal Brexit

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SUPERMARKETS are preparing for Brexit-related supply problems – including the possibility of stockpiling.

Lorries line up on the A256 outside Dover for the second of two trials at the former Manston Airport site in Kent of a government plan to hold vehicles in the event of post-Brexit disruption at the Channel ports. (Picture: PA Gareth Fuller)

With parliament due to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal next Tuesday, businesses are preparing for the possibility that the flow of trade between the UK and EU could be seriously affected, particularly if her proposals are rejected.

Turmoil could be generated after ‘Brexit day’ on 29 March, as new customs checks would slow the delivery of freight from the Continent, with a number of UK ports, including Portsmouth, a key supply chain for the island, preparing to take more imports if Dover struggles with capacity.

A live rehearsal of an emergency traffic system that will be put in place to prevent congestion in Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit took place yesterday. However, only 89 trucks took part while the system is designed to cope with 6,000 vehicles.

Channel Islands Co-op chief executive Colin Macleod said that the stockpiling of goods is ‘under active consideration’ by the supermarket. ‘We have been working closely with our supply chain for the last few months endeavouring to understand the potential implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU,’ he said.

‘We are optimistic that the effects, while they may be challenging, are manageable and we will continue to monitor the evolving negotiations, decisions and implications carefully.

‘As it stands, we have not made a definite decision to stockpile food, although we are keeping the matter under active consideration.’

Marks & Spencer’s Guernsey franchise director Ian McLaughlin said the company was looking at holding more items at its local warehouse than normal in the event of problems.

Concerning fresh produce, it had already spoken to its supplier: ‘We have only one supplier, which is M&S in the UK, and we have had conversations with them, and they in turn are having conversations with their European suppliers and manufacturers in the UK,’ he said.

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‘Our business operates on a “just in time” process and we’re looking at the levels of cover we maintain in the island.’

Tony O’Neill, chief executive of Sandpiper CI which runs the island’s Iceland and Morrisons franchises, said that the Brexit situation was ‘very complicated’ and stockpiling would not prevent a potential shortage of fresh produce.

‘We are in close contact with all of our food franchise partners who continue to develop plans to mitigate the potential impact of a “no deal” exit,’ he said.

‘Notwithstanding those embryonic plans, retailers can stockpile all they like but that won’t help the supply of fresh foods, which cannot be stockpiled due to their short shelf-life.

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‘Areas like produce, heavily dependent on international supply at this time of year, will be under serious threat, as will many ingredients used in the preparation of fresh foods.

‘The one saving grace for the islands is that we are unlikely to be affected to any worse degree than the UK but only time will tell what that scale looks like.’

A spokeswoman for Waitrose would not confirm whether they were stockpiling but confirmed that the supermarket chain was making preparations for Guernsey as part of its Brexit plans.

‘We are planning for every potential Brexit outcome and this, of course, includes a focus on our product supply and distribution to the Channel islands and the UK,’ she said.

BLOB Council leaders from the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton have held meetings to coordinate preparations for Brexit, and have written to UK Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling outlining their concerns over possible delays hitting supplies being shipped from Portsmouth. These are particularly expected in the event of a no-deal scenario when the lorries would need extra checks.

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