Politics

Supermarket food shortages will be over by Christmas, Downing Street says


Supermarket food shortages will be over by Christmas, No 10 says – rejecting industry warnings that shoppers must get used to “permanent” gaps on shelves.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman set up the hostage to fortune as he dismissed an extraordinary claim that the days when people could pick up almost any item they want, whenever they want, are over.

The gloomy boss of the Food and Drink Federation said there was no prospect of the problems – triggered by a combination of Brexit and Covid – ending quickly.

“It’s going to get worse and it’s not going to get better after getting worse any time soon,” Ian Wright told an event organised by the Institute for Government.

“The result of the labour shortages is that the just-in-time system that has sustained supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants – so the food has arrived on shelf or in the kitchen, just when you need it – is no longer working.

“And I don’t think it will work again, I think we will see we are now in for permanent shortages.”

But, quizzed by The Independent, the prime minister’s spokesman rejected the warning, saying: “We don’t recognise those claims.

“We have got highly resilient food supply chains which have coped extremely well in the face of challenges and we believe that will remain the case.”

Pressed on whether the shortages will ease to allow people to enjoy a “normal Christmas”, the spokesman replied: “I believe so, yes.”

No 10’s confidence comes despite the CBI business group warning that the labour shortages blamed for the gaps on shelves and restaurant menus could last up to two years.

Despite gathering criticism, the government has far rebuffed calls to loosen immigration rules – to attract more HGV drivers, for example – insisting businesses must stop relying on EU workers.

However, the fear of creating a bigger crisis is expected to see the government shelve full post-Brexit import controls on imports from the EU, for a second time.

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