Create a Brexit-ready food cupboard? Many can’t afford their next meal | Frances Ryan

Running with the headline “Army on standby for no-deal Brexit emergency” , the Sunday Times ran a story this week about ministers drawing up plans to “send in the army” to deliver food, medicines and fuel in the event of shortages if Britain left the EU without a deal. In addition to food, it noted that army vehicles would be used to “ferry supplies to vulnerable people outside the south-east” who were struggling to obtain the medicines they needed.

I fondly remember the days when the remain campaign was dubbed Project Fear for suggesting that Brexit would have a negative economic impact. Nowadays, reports that the government is preparing helicopters to send potatoes to the elderly in Liverpool is said to be business as usual.

The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has offered reassurance that there will be “adequate food” in case of a no-deal – illustrating in two words how pro-leave depictions of a glorious post-EU future has been downgraded from Britain being a “global leader” to just about managing to not starve its citizens. This isn’t scaremongering conjecture. It’s already happening. Some secluded communities are starting to plan food stores and increased food production due to concerns that being at the end of the supply chain will see them without basic goods in case of a no-deal. A Sky News investigation this week has found that nearly 30 councils are formulating their own emergency plans because of Brexit uncertainty, including border controls, the availability of food and medicines and even “social unrest”.

Fears over Brexit food supply notably comes on top of projected price hikes for everyday essentials like bread and meat due to this summer’s heatwave. Hyperbolic Brexit headlines aside, it would be understandable for families to read such stories and be worried about how they are going to afford the weekly shop if scarcity pushes prices up. As it is, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that 19 million people are already living below the benchmark for an adequate income because of rising food and fuel prices.

That makes it all the more insufferable to read the response to such fears by some Brexiteers. Whether it’s food supplies or job losses, the likes of Boris Johnson and Liam Fox have made careers out of subverting normal standards of reasoning, pitching an era of employment insecurity and voluntary food shortages as if it’s some sort of badge of honour. To be concerned about the disastrous EU negotiations has long been to “talk down Britain”. Jacob Rees-Mogg has said ministers have made the country look “fretful, weak and incompetent” by admitting the risk of food shortages, as if the problem is insufficient bravado, rather than Brexit itself.

There is no apparent concern for avoiding the unprecedented economic and social ramifications a no-deal would bring – rather, there’s a zealous enthusiasm to run headfirst into it. As one of the pro-hard Brexit memes going around social media puts it: “I’m happy to live off tinned tuna sandwiches, frozen peas and UHT milk if it means getting out of the EU.” By and large, the people crowing how willing they are to live in hardship in the case of a no-deal will not be the ones facing the brunt of the consequences. Millionaires Mogg and Nigel Farage won’t be struggling for supplies. It will be the poorest and those with disabilities and health problems who suffer if food prices rise.

Nigel Farage with Jacob Rees-Mogg

Nigel Farage with Jacob Rees-Mogg. ‘If the worst happens and Britain faces a no-deal, Farage and friends will neither be struggling nor governing.’ Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Much like the Conservatives’ old “all in it together” phrase, food shortages lose their romantic charm when you’re the one skipping meals. Media outlets – including the Guardian – have responded by running pieces advising the public on how to stockpile food, or even grow our own. And yet the truth is there are countless families who currently struggle to afford their next meal, let alone create a Brexit store cupboard. Stockpiling will only push up prices further, while those who really need it, such as people living on benefits with chronic illness, can’t afford it. As the food writer and campaigner Jack Monroe tweeted, rather than hoarding tins for your Brexit bunker, you’d be better off donating to your local food bank. That these social emergencies are getting lost in the Brexit chaos is itself a crisis. One of the greatest ironies of the referendum is that while low opportunities and economic insecurity were key reasons behind the vote to leave, Brexit is simply not an answer to these very real problems – it will actually likely make them worse. This is partly because the juggernaut of Brexit is so all-consuming, it pushes even the most critical domestic agendas, such as social care and growing poverty, into the long grass. And because the economic knock of leaving the EU, let alone the fallout of a no-deal, will leave any government with fewer resources to invest where we really need it.

If the worst happens and Britain faces a no-deal, Farage and friends will neither be struggling nor governing. They will be the ones shouting “Brexit betrayal!” from the sidelines, continuing to play on people’s fears for their own agenda. Food shortages are in many ways a microcosm of the Brexit con: wealthy ideologues promise the earth and when reality hits, it’s the poorest that suffer.

Frances Ryan is a regular Guardian contributor


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more