James O’Brien asks when people will see Brexit downsides, as food trade hits ‘crisis point’

18 June 2021, 14:58

By Fiona Jones

James O’Brien questioned when people will accept the pitfalls of Brexit, as Tesco is forced to bin almost 50,000 tonnes of fresh food every week due to severe shortage of heavy goods drivers in the UK.

Reported in industry publication The Grocer, Tesco made this admission during an industry-wide round-table organised by the Department for Transport.

Alongside exportation problems, the “chronic driver shortage and staff shortfalls” means a food shortage in the UK is “inevitable”, with imported goods being rarer and pricier, The Grocer said.

With food and drink exports to the EU from the UK almost halved, 65,000 HGV drivers are needed to fill the gap made by a mass exodus of EU drivers, according to Road Haulage Association.

The crisis is so severe one leading industry figure has called for the Government to put the Army on standby to transport food if the situation worsens.

James O’Brien reacted to this: “When will it become inarguable?”

“So I can tell you that 50 tonnes of food is currently being thrown away in Tesco, Tesco can say it is in large part, not entirely obviously, we’re in the middle of a pandemic still, Tesco will say it is in large part because of Brexit, we can’t get the drivers.

“You will say no it isn’t. I wonder at what point does it become inarguable?”

He pointed out that food and drink exports to anywhere outside the EU have returned “roughly to normal levels so [Covid] is not the reason.”

He cited his local convenience store a shortage of fresh produce, questioning whether that is part of a bigger picture, also noticing a slight increase of pictures of empty shelves on Twitter.

“I do wonder whether you are already feeling the pinch. As ever now, the people I really really really want to hear from are the people who are absolutely convinced there was never going to be any pinch.

James surmised, “So UK food and drink exports to the European Union have almost halved in the first three months of the year, meanwhile over at Tesco suppliers are being forced to bin nearly 50 tonnes of food a week due to a lorry driver crisis.

“Imagine in a normal country that wasn’t still enslaved to Brexit what the tabloid papers would be doing with the news that leading industry figures are calling for the army to be put on standby. Normally they love that, don’t they?

The people that prioritise flags over facts. They think that ten students taking down a photograph of the Queen is really really bad but Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, flying to Balmoral to lie to her is absolutely fine, normally they’d love this.

“They’ve got the Army on standby, this is outrageous! Nope, not a word. Not a sausage, not a syllable. Such a severe situation, according to one leading industry figure, that he’s calling for the Government to put the Army on standby to transport food.”

The suggestion was made by James Bielby, chief executive officer of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors.

He said: “The situation has reached crisis point and it is likely to get worse as more hospitality venues open and demand increases.

“We are concerned enough to suggest that the Government considers having Army trucks on standby to ensure there are enough vehicles and drivers to distribute food.”