EU summit

British stock up on supplies ahead of EU exit

The Manns - Nevine and Richard - plant crops in preparation for an uncertain Brexit period that they fear may lead to disruption in supplies.
The Manns - Nevine and Richard - plant crops in preparation for an uncertain Brexit period that they fear may lead to disruption in supplies.PHOTO: NYTIMES

REDRUTH (England) • Her cupboards are jammed with pasta, rice and couscous - enough to feed a family of five for weeks. Medications are crammed into plastic tubs, and in the garden of her four-bedroom home stands a tank that can hold over 1,000 litres of water.

Ms Nevine Mann is not readying herself for the threat of nuclear war, flooding or civil disorder in this part of Cornwall, in scenic south-west England. No, the spectre that keeps her on edge is Brexit.

Ms Mann, 36, has joined the country's band of "Brexit preppers," people who fear chaos in March, when Britain will leave the European Union (EU), and who are stockpiling supplies.

For more than 18 months, Britain has been trying to negotiate a deal with the EU, without which the country could face gridlock at ports, trucks stuck on highways with their loads of food spoiling, empty grocery and pharmacy shelves, energy scarcity and factories shutting down.

Britain imports around one-third of its food from the EU, and businesses rely on complex supply chains that could break down if checks are imposed on the thousands of trucks that cross the English Channel each day.

This being Britain, people are not retreating to underground bunkers, as America's "Doomsday preppers" do, and Britons are more likely to hoard toilet paper than weaponry.

"People are talking about World War II and rationing," said Ms Mann, a former midwife.

ASSEMBLING THE ESSENTIALS

You just need two cupboards of food and some extra toilet rolls, and coffee - because a lot of it comes through Germany - unless you fancy roasting acorns.

MR JAMES PATRICK, a security consultant and former police officer.

 

The government of Prime Minister Theresa May dismisses such talk, but its own ministers have published contingency plans for an exit on March 29 without a deal.

For the first time since the end of rationing in the 1950s, Britain has a minister responsible for food supplies. More ominously, the government has advertised job openings in emergency planning. Such measures may be intended to raise Britain's leverage in negotiations with Brussels, but they also signal to people that there is a real possibility of a crisis, at least for a while.

A Facebook group called 48 Percent Preppers - named after the 48 per cent who voted in a 2016 referendum to remain in the EU - is dedicated to preparing for the impact of Brexit, and has more than 1,200 members.

Among the other advice circulating is a leaflet, Getting Ready Together" that describes risks including reduced gas and oil supplies, shortages of food and drugs, and panic-buying leading to rationing.

"We can't change a lot of things, but we can be ready for the worst possible outcome, because nobody died from being over-prepared," said the leaflet's author, Mr James Patrick, a security consultant and former police officer. "We have a long history of being taken by surprise by predictable events."

Mr Patrick, who lives in the East Midlands region of England, says that people need not stock large quantities of food, and that his family has enough for only a week.

"You just need two cupboards of food and some extra toilet rolls," he said, "and coffee - because a lot of it comes through Germany - unless you fancy roasting acorns".

Analysts say that the possibility of disorderly rupture cannot be discounted - something that brings with it the risk of disruption to supplies and a decline in the value of the British currency, which would in turn drive up the costs of imported food and other goods.

Mr Ian Wright, the director-general of the Food and Drink Federation, an industry group, said there was no sign so far of strains on supplies but predicted that stockpiling by consumers would start in earnest if there was no agreement on Brexit by next month.

NYTIMES

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline 'British stock up on supplies ahead of EU exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe