It’s not easy being a Champagne Socialist. And it’s not going to get any easier when there is no champagne. Which might well happen once we leave the EU. What is one to do?
Personally, in keeping with my man-of-the-people position, I’ve been keen to make sure that I have in stock more of the things I need that actually come from Europe and might be affected.
So I found myself the other day in possession of a huge Spanish chorizo, two kilos of Italian dried pasta, two packs of puy lentils, and three of risotto rice.
This doesn’t look like a balanced diet, to say the least. Nor is it really enough to get me through a month or so of food supply chaos. And that’s without even beginning to think about the dwindling supply of the finest French and Spanish wines, which are low and urgently in need of a top up.
All of this means that a crisis is looming. Nothing, after all, is more important than the availability of the highest quality comestibles. Never mind our ability to go on holiday without visas, or have enough staff at the doctor’s surgery, or impending economic recession: I need my Parma ham, moutarde au basilic and corn-fed poussin. And if you think that’s exotic stuff you don’t use, then remember that HP sauce is made in the Netherlands and imported. Who knows what all else comes over the Channel?
But there are serious issues to be thought through, and, joking aside, the availability of a wide range of food which we have taken for granted for so long is under threat if Brexit isn’t managed carefully, which given the evidence to date is a high risk.
All this was brought home to me by a surprise realisation of how many of my friends – most of them sensible types and not the least bit political – are discussing stockpiling things ahead of the looming Brexit deadline.
Some have gone “full survivalist”, with piles of baked beans and tinned ham cluttering the garage along with toilet rolls and lots of other daily essentials. Some have more simply just rather vaguely started doubling up on grocery orders. Yet there is a genuine concern underneath all this, especially for those with children to look after.
This isn’t to forget the very serious concerns which people have about the availability of medical supplies too. There have also been stories for months about the threat to provision of essential medicines which are made outside the UK, especially those like insulin which have a very short shelf life.
To understate the matter, it does seem odd that we’ve got to this point. One of the primary concerns of Government is food security, and yet there seems wholly inadequate preparation.
Perhaps we’re just panicking. Perhaps – and hopefully this is more likely – the supply of non-perishable foodstuffs is already secure, because the supermarkets and food manufacturers are capable of thinking further ahead than, say, Chris Grayling and Theresa May, and aren’t going to risk not having anything to sell.
But you can be sure that, if there is any sign of a shortage then prices will go up. In any case, someone has to pay for the costs of them stockpiling this stuff in the first place. Supermarkets have to pay their suppliers at some point, and renting the space for storage itself costs money. You can be sure that in the end it will be consumers who pay for those costs through higher prices at the till.
Many of us now rely on prepared foods rather than simple raw materials, and a lot of those are mass manufactured at locations across Europe. It’s the sort of things which we often take for granted – pizzas, ready sauces, even things like pies and so on -that might be most at risk if transport problems, customs controls and tariffs combine to choke the cross-Channel importation of food.
As much as anything else, it is the uncertainty and unpredictability which creates the climate of fear in which perfectly rational people begin to pile cans of baked beans 6ft high in their garage.
For my part, leaving the chorizo shortage crisis aside (it is a key part of my diet), I’m not really going to get too panicky. I cook, and I prefer to use local and seasonal ingredients anyway, so I’ll be able to knock something vaguely edible up no matter what. I worry, though, about those who are less well-off, less confident in cooking from scratch, or are simply without storage space.
That we’ve reached this point, though, is something I think future historians will look back on with bafflement at least, and with horror if things do go seriously wrong. No amount of champagne will help me then.
Dave Wilson is a Labour Party member and community activist who has worked in and around local authorities for 35 years. He is a trustee of Kent Savers Credit Union.