The British vegetable-growing season has ended just as the October 31 deadline for leaving the EU approaches, meaning tomatoes and lettuce on UK supermarket shelves have started coming from Spain or Portugal. A disorderly exit threatens delays on crucial port routes. That means perishable produce could rot on the docks, importers fear.
“We’re dealing with fruit that is ‘dying’. As soon as it is picked it is dying,” said Eddie Fleming, director of JEM Fruits in Maidstone, England, which is halfway between London and the crucial port of Dover on the southeast coast.
While the Brexit talks have centred around arcane matters such as the “backstop” governing the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK’s food supply could be a more obvious casualty of any new breakdown. Britain receives about 30% of its food from EU members, with a further 10% coming from other countries covered by EU trade deals, government data show.
There is a limited window to get fresh produce from continental Europe to the UK before it wilts and won’t sell. This underscores the importance of getting a deal through that will keep trucks moving across borders — especially the busy ferry route from Dover to Calais, France — and preserve the delicate logistics that ensure Britons enjoy fresh tomatoes, berries and other perishables year-round.
As many as 85% of trucks attempting to cross the Dover-Calais straits might not have the paperwork needed to get past French customs on the day after a no-deal exit, according to an estimate from Boris Johnson’s government published in September. Disruption at ports would probably continue as haulers adapt slowly, with the flow of traffic only improving to 50%-70% of the current rate after three months.