Former Sainsbury’s CEO

"You can't cope if the product isn't in the UK,"

Justin King, former CEO of Sainsbury’s and food director at Marks and Spencer, said there will be “gaps on the shelves within a week” if there is no deal in place by Halloween.

“The government’s expectation is that something like 50 per cent of lorries will not pass smoothly through the border,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

“Supermarkets will do whatever they can to cope with the disruption,” he added. “But let’s be clear – there’s about 10 days of [fresh] food in the UK in total.

“The kind of disruption that the government is talking about today … will lead to gaps on the shelves within a week in the UK. Significant gaps.

“Because something between 30 and 40 per cent of our produce at that time of the year is coming from the European Union.”

King is one of several expert voices warning that the government must take further action to prevent the harshest effects of no-deal reported 

Food expert prof Tim Lang suggested that the government may have to drop its own public health advice on eating fresh fruit and vegetables because the disruption might cause a severe lack of availability.

“Of course the industry will innovate in the longer term to solve the problem,” said King.

But in the shorter term, the government’s planned £2.1 billion of no-deal preparations spending would not fully address the fundamental supply chain issues.

“You can’t ‘cope’ if the product isn’t in the UK,” he said.

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