The chairman of Tesco has admitted it has stockpiled long-life goods in preparation for possible supply disruption at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Speaking hours before PM Boris Johnson was due in Brussels for last ditch trade deal talks, John Allan was unable to rule out the chance of temporary shortages in some fresh foods from 1 January but added they should only be for “a limited period”.
He said the UK’s largest supermarket chain had moved to spread imports across UK ports to avoid a reliance on a few points of entry, including Dover, amid warnings of long freight delays.
Hauliers believe such disruption is inevitable whether the Brexit transition period ends with a free trade agreement or not.
Mr Allan’s remarks add to growing evidence of a rush to secure supplies and escape tariffs, should the UK and EU be trading under World Trade Organisation rules from 1 January.
One major ferry operator, Stena, told Sky News on Wednesday the volume of goods it had handled in the past several days was 19% up.
Its executive director, Ian Hampton, said: “We believe this is the result of stockpiling for Brexit with the companies being extremely prudent given the new reality of 31st of December, with the new checks that come into play.
“It’s therefore sensible that businesses do stockpile so they can ensure that the supply chains, and the, the opportunity and access to goods remains unhindered.”
The coronavirus crisis has added to the strain at UK ports, with Southampton joining Felixstowe in operating beyond capacity.
Tesco’s chairman was speaking just days after the company’s new chief executive, Ken Murphy, used an interview with Sky’s Ian King Live to demand clarity on the rules they may face.
He could not rule out the prospect of price increases at the tills to reflect any additional cost increases.
Mr Allan told Bloomberg News : “We are trying to ensure that we have stockpiled as much as we can of long-life products either in our own warehouses or with our suppliers.”
The UK grocery sector stepped up warehouse capacity last year in anticipation that a messy divorce from the EU would damage supply chains.
It was confirmed on Wednesday that stores in Northern Ireland would be given a three-month grace period from additional checks and paperwork demanded by new post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.
The government made the announcement in the wake of a deal on the operation of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol which will apply whether a wider EU/UK trade deal is agreed or not.
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