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No-deal Brexit could force supermarkets to ration as shelves 'quickly' empty

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
An analyst warns supermarkets could end up rationing under a no-deal Brexit. Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Supermarkets could be forced to introduce rationing as consumers “quickly” clear the shelves if they see any shortages under a no-deal Brexit, analysts have warned.

Signs of panic are already evident across the population. Yahoo Finance UK spoke to Brits on why they are hoarding food and medicine while analysis of Google searches for Brexit stockpiling and membership of a Facebook group offering advice on the practice showed that those queries are rising.

These fears were exacerbated when a government report on ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ preparations was leaked to the Sunday Times over the last few days. It said food, fuel and medicine shortages were among the most likely outcomes, and border delays could cause months of supply chain disruptions.

Researchers at Shore Capital also said in a note to clients seen by Yahoo Finance UK that food fraud could “mushroom” amid the disruption, while shortages of chilled storage capacity could make food wastage more likely.

READ MORE: Meet the ordinary Brits stockpiling for a no-deal Brexit

The note said Britain has begun to “sleep walk in the dark,” predicting the first few days after Brexit on 31 October could be “chaotic.”

It also suggested that politicians would probably “remain very well-fed” while those with the fewest resources could suffer most from depleted stocks on the shelves.

‘Panic buying’ risk as shoppers turn ‘selfish and mean’

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ramping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Photo: AP Photo/Jon Super

Analysts said it was “remarkable” to be warning of potential rationing for a “supposedly advanced modern-day state,” and said they hoped their assessments would prove to be wrong and even be looked back at with “embarrassment.”

But they said their serious analysis showed the “profound” decisions politicians had to make in the coming weeks, amid renewed efforts by MPs to block a no-deal Brexit.

READ MORE: CBI chief warns Britain can ‘never be fully ready’ for no-deal Brexit

Clive Black and his team of analysts at investment group Shore Capital said that in the food industry, supply chain disruption and weaker sterling could spark the “temporary loss” of certain products and drive higher prices.

But it warned of potential “panic buying,” adding: “The full spectrum of human behaviour, from generous and gracious to selfish and mean, can be expected to emerge.

“Whilst not suggesting that this will happen, should the availability of foodstuffs of any sort be seemingly jeopardised, then we would anticipate the clearing of supermarket shelves quite quickly.”

It added that business demand for chilled and frozen food storage could exceed supply, pushing up cost pressures and the risk of food being wasted.

Growth of ‘preppers’ groups online since Boris Johnson took office

Jo Elgarf said there was increased demand for advice on stockpiling online. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

The 48% Preppers, a Facebook group for Remain voters worried about shortages and looking for advice on stockpiling, has seen a leap in membership requests since the leaked report was published.

More than 250 people applied to join the closed group on Sunday and Monday, according to one of the administrator’s, Jo Elgarf.

Its membership is now up 3.8% in the past 30 days to around 10,500. The group’s figures suggest there was another leap shortly after Boris Johnson’s selection as Tory leader and UK prime minister.

“This is very different to pre-March,” said Jo Elgarf, who fears her daughter’s medicines could be at risk from disruption. “Couples are sitting down, actively looking. Normal, everyday people.”

But she stressed that the group “only recommend sensible amounts” of stockpiling, with enough supplies for a few weeks, adding: “People are looking for moderate advice, not doomsday advice.”

Increased Google searches for help since leaked report warned of shortages

Analysis of Google Trends by Yahoo Finance UK also suggests increased public awareness of the threats to supplies as the leaked government report continues to make the headlines.

The number of people Googling for ‘how to prepare for Brexit’ and ‘how to prepare for no-deal Brexit’ increased fivefold late on Sunday and throughout Monday.

‘How to prepare for Brexit at home’ rose even higher, with 15 times as many users searching for it on Sunday and Monday than a day earlier.

Google does not provide exact figures, but shows how searches have risen or fallen in percentage terms over given periods of time.

READ MORE: Brits have spent £4bn stockpiling for goods ahead of Brexit deadline

‘Should I be stockpiling for Brexit’ was one of the most common searches among anyone Googling topics related to Brexit and stockpiling.

The increased concerns also come after more than 100 MPs are demanding parliament sit sooner than scheduled, with alarm at the limited efforts of the government to negotiate with Brussels or offer signs of compromise that could secure a deal that could help maintain frictionless trade.

Meanwhile government preparations for a no-deal Brexit have been ramped up since new prime minister Boris Johnson took office, despite warnings from business and ex-civil servants that the UK can never be fully prepared for the scale of disruption.