Empty shelves. Panic buying. Queues outside supermarkets. Earlier this year the British public got an unpleasant taste of what it is like to worry if food will run out.
The shortages, in the early days of the Covid pandemic, occurred despite few disruptions to the food supply. But if the UK government continues with its efforts to sever European Union (EU) ties at all costs, supplies could be badly disrupted, worsening shortages and harming people’s right to food.
The UK left the EU in January 2020 but remains effectively part of the EU’s free trade zone until the end of December.
If the UK and EU fail to reach agreement on future trading arrangements by year’s end, there is a real risk of disruption to food and medicine imports to the UK, as the lorries and ships that bring those goods need to be checked. Considering that the UK imports at least a quarter, and possibly more, of its food from the EU, this is worrying.
The UK government’s own risk assessment from 2019 showed no-deal would disrupt fresh food supplies and drive up prices. And as Human Rights Watch research has found, this would disproportionately affect people on low incomes.
Brexit negotiations are proving difficult, and the UK government’s determination not to be constrained by EU ties has led to policy choices that carry grave risks for people’s rights.
The UK chose not to incorporate into domestic law the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which would have ensured that workers’ and other EU-derived rights, such as equal treatment for part-time workers, remain protected in the future.
The UK refuses to promise to respect European human rights law, even though failing to do so risks EU cooperation on security and criminal justice that helps keep people safe in the UK.
And this week the government signaled that it won’t respect the binding international agreement it reached with the EU last year to ensure that Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland remains open, despite the clear risks of violence if a hard border returns.
The paramount responsibility of any government is to keep people safe. In its drive to sever EU ties, the UK government is failing in that duty.