If anyone remains in any doubt about the seriousness of the Brexit situation, cast your mind back to 1974, writes Stephen Jardine.
Although Britain had a sugar-import agreement with Caribbean countries, they chose to switch exports to the American market when prices started to rise. As a result, UK sugar imports fell by a third. Some supermarkets introduced sugar rationing. In others, the shelves were simply empty. So could that be a taste of what is to come with Brexit? This week several big name supermarkets admitted they may struggle to maintain stock levels in the event of a no-deal Brexit and disruption to supply chains. However the message from the Government remains, don’t panic.
“The UK has a high level of food security built upon a diverse range of sources, including strong domestic production and imports from other countries. This will continue to be the case whether we leave the EU with or without a deal,” said a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman. Tell that to the preppers. The name originally emerged in reference to survivalist nutcases in the American Midwest, stockpiling ammunition and Hershey bars in preparation for the apocalypse.
Now it refers to people like Andrew Rawson who are concerned Jaffa Cakes will soon be harder to find. Rawson is the author of a book detailing how to stock up and prepare for a hard Brexit.
“Prepping is essentially shopping in advance so food shortages won’t affect you, or not so badly. Nobody wants to be amongst the panic shoppers so prepping means they don’t have to be. In a way it also helps those that don’t prep as there will be fewer people out panic buying,” he said.
Sensible preparation or shopping hysteria? On paper, a lot is at risk. Nearly one third of food consumed in the UK comes from the EU and the percentage of imports increases at this time of year when we source 90 per cent of lettuce and 70 per cent of soft fruit from member states on the continent.
Margaret Thatcher was a prepper. During industrial unrest in the 1970s, she revealed she had a larder filled with tinned foods in case of disruption. Dismissing accusations of hoarding, at the time she said she was simply “a prudent housewife”. However she also said “there is no such thing as society”.
No one wants to go hungry but there is a big difference between that and some difficulty getting hold of French camembert or Italian prosciutto. Just think back to the Beast from the East for an illustration of how vulnerable supply changes are. Within 24 hours of the snow starting, my local supermarket was out of milk and bread. That may have been down to a lack of deliveries but it probably wasn’t helped by the bloke I saw buying four loaves and all the remaining rolls. If we all follow his example, we simply add to Brexit’s logistical challenges. Frustrated by the behavior of politicians, it’s not surprising people are doing what they can to protect themselves.
But stockpiling tins of beans is not going make the difference between survival and starvation. It just means you’ve got a lot of beans.