Britain’s retail industry lobby group has warned that consumers will face reduced availability and higher prices in the shops if the government cannot reach a workable agreement with the European Union on border checks after Brexit.
Until the end of the year, the United Kingdom is in a transition period, despite having formally left the bloc at the end of January. Next month, the two sides will begin negotiations about their future trading relations, amid fears the Westminster-imposed cut-off point of the end of the year is impractically short for a proper deal to be agreed, raising fears of a no-deal Brexit.
“The issue is simple－higher tariffs and extensive checks will harm consumers, retailers, and the UK economy,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, or BRC.
“The government must set about to negotiate a zero-tariff agreement that minimizes checks and red tape. Otherwise it will be consumers who suffer as a result.”
Almost 80 percent of the UK’s food imports come from the EU, and the BRC says infrastructure and administrative processes must be established－in addition to other measures such as staff retraining, appropriate IT systems and parking facilities－to cope with the disruption caused to freight transport at ferry connections between southern England and northern Europe.
In the run-up to last December’s general election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when asked about the likelihood of a trade deal, said:”I’ve absolutely no doubt at all that we’ll be able to make sure that the EU protects its own interests and has a deal with us that ensures that continues for the future.
“If you say, ‘Can I absolutely guarantee that we’ll get a deal?’, I think I can.”
However, speaking at this weekend’s Munich Security Conference, an international gathering of senior political figures and heads of multinational bodies from around the world, at which Johnson was invited to speak but declined to attend, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian painted a far less optimistic picture of the upcoming negotiations.
“I think that on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we (the EU) are going to start on, we are going to rip each other apart,” he said. “But that is part of negotiations; everyone will defend their own interests.”