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Word on the street: Our independent traders will feel the full force of Brexit

PUBLISHED: 15:00 29 November 2018

Archant

When Jacob Rees-Mogg gushes about the benefits of leaving the EU, he usually mentions “cheaper footwear”.

Perhaps this fits in with his wider, 19th century conception of shoeless urchins whose parents, under European vassalage, cannot afford to shod their rickets-ridden offspring. For a man who almost certainly has his own hand-carved last nestling on a shelf at John Lobb, his concern reflects his understanding and championing of the lower orders.

As we near March 29, 2019, other, less positive, impacts of a hard Brexit become apparent: food price and availability is a concern for all of us.

The UK produces just under 50 per cent of what we eat and imports just over 30pc from the EU – mainly fresh fruit and veg, meat and drink.

Of the food we produce, 35pc of the labour input is from the EU. A Sussex University report said that: “The UK is unprepared for the most complex ever change to its food system,” and a cross-bench report from the Lords has warned: “If an agreement cannot be negotiated [...] there can be no doubt that prices paid at the checkout would rise.”

Premier Foods (the firm that produces Bisto, Oxo, Sharwood’s, Mr Kipling and a host of well known pantry brands) is investing £10m in stockpiling ingredients to secure its European supply chain. Clearly, this means going to market and buying up supplies in advance of when they are actually needed: other big producers will be doing the same. In the short term, supply is fixed so prices are likely to rise.

They have got the financial muscle to do this, but does anyone know what the impact will be on the fragile economy of small craft producers and independent retailers – the bakers, the cake makers, the greengrocers, the butchers, the continental delis?

Take Dunn’s: apart from locally grown and milled flour, they source many of their ingredients via wholesalers. They use Belgian chocolate, free-range eggs from the Netherlands, raisins from Greece, fruit-peel from Italy – it’s a long shopping list. Many of their bakery staff have come from Europe.

Across the Broadway, Michael in Broadway Fruiterers gets up at dawn to go to market.

Although he buys UK produce wherever possible, he reckons that at least 60pc of the hundreds of lines stocked come from the EU: fresh food can’t be stockpiled so you can appreciate why he’s worried about supply chain delays.

The Crouch End Cellars is a relatively new arrival and has been building up a following of customers who appreciate good wines and their excellent range of cheeses and meats – nearly all of which are imported from Europe.

Big, powerful companies are already starting to take action but the threats to small businesses’ supply chains and access to labour must to addressed by the government and practical help and advice made available as soon as possible.

Perhaps Jacob wants a return to rationing?

Search for “Housewife’s Story 1948”; a charming film about post-war Crouch End.

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