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BRC reacts to Yellowhammer: no-deal Brexit "worst possible timing" for retail

Lauretta Roberts
11 September 2019

British Retail Consortium (BRC) CEO Helen Dickinson has reacted to the Government's publication of a redacted version of its "Yellowhammer" report – which outlines a number of "reasonable worst case" scenarios of a no-deal Brexit on 1 November – saying such a move would represent the "worst possible timing" for British retailers.

Responding to the publication of the report, which outlines the potential negative impact that leaving the EU without a deal would have on on factors such as fuel availability, the supply of vital drugs, food and other materials, Dickinson said: "The Yellowhammer document confirms what retailers have been saying for the last three years - fresh food availability will decrease, consumer choice will decrease, and prices will rise. This isn’t good for the British public and this isn’t good for British retailers."

Dickinson added while retailers were preparing for no deal, which has become ever more likely under the leadership of Boris Johnson, it was impossible to take into accounts all of the potentially negative fall-out.

"A no-deal Brexit in November represents the worst possible timing for the retail industry and the consumers it serves," Dickinson said.

"Warehousing availability will be limited as retailers prepare for Black Friday and Christmas, many fresh fruit and vegetables will be out of season in the UK, and imports will be hampered by disruption through the Channel Straits that could reduce flow by up to 60% for up to three months.

"While retailers are doing all they can to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, it is impossible to completely mitigate the negative impact it would have - something the Government itself has acknowledged," she added.

With Parliament prorogued at Prime Minister Boris Johnson's behest – a move that was deemed unlawful by judges in Scotland on the basis Johnson had argued it was necessary for the Government to formulate its domestic agenda; the judges ruled the prorogation was enacted to prevent scrutiny of the Government's Brexit plans – Dickinson called upon the Government to find an urgent solution to the issue.

"The fact remains that a damaging, no-deal Brexit is in no-one’s interests and it is vital that a solution is found, and fast, that ensures frictionless tariff-free trade with the EU after our departure," she said.

The Government was obliged to publish Yellowhammer, much of which had been leaked to the Sunday Times last month, having lost a Parliamentary vote, tabled by Dominic Grieve, QC, MP, who argued that it should be made public. The report contains a total of 20 “reasonable worst case planning assumptions’’ – of which one, item 15, has been redacted.

Despite Michael Gove insisting the document leaked to the Sunday Times was the work of the previous Government under Theresa May and out of date, Yellowhammer states that its assumptions were of 2 August 2019 (Johnson assumed the role of PM on 23 July) and the contents seems to differ little from that which the newspaper published. However in the earlier leaked version the assumptions were referred to as "base scenarios" rather than "reasonable worst case".

The redacted item 15 follows on from a warning about potential fuel shortages and delays at borders. Item 14 reads: “Regional traffic disruption caused by border delays could affect fuel distribution within the local area, particularly if traffic queues in Kent block the Dartford crossing, which would disrupt fuel supply in London and the South-East. Customer behaviour could lead to local shortages in other parts of the country.”

The British Fashion Council has previously voiced its concerns about a no-deal Brexit saying it could cost the industry could cost the fashion industry between £850 million and £900 million.

It has warned that disruption at ports could have a serious detrimental effect on the manufacturing process adding time and cost. “Fashion is component goods which traverse borders multiple times before becoming a finished product, and in order to sell, samples are taken during the selling season to a variety of international markets and shows. This adds a level of complexity not dissimilar to other component goods industries such as the automotive industry.”

The council has also expressed its concern about access to global talent for very specialist roles such as pattern cutters, which could leave the industry with a "vital skills gap" were the Government to impose its plans that international workers must earn a minimum of £30,000 to qualify for a work visa.

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