LONDON -- The U.K. food industry is asking the government to set aside competition rules so companies can coordinate supply decisions to combat shortages in the event Britain leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trade relations.
The Food and Drink Federation said Wednesday it has asked the government to direct the Competition and Markets Authority to relax rules that prevent such coordination. It hasn't yet received a response.
Britain's decision to delay Brexit until Oct. 31 from the original date in March is likely to make it more difficult for supermarkets to keep shelves filled because normal stockpiling for the Christmas season means there is less warehouse space available in the autumn, the group said.
"If the government wants the food supply chain to work together to tackle likely shortages - to decide where to prioritize shipments - they will have to provide cast-iron written reassurances that competition law will not be strictly applied to those discussions," Tim Rycroft, the federation's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Without such assurances, any such collaboration would risk incurring large fines from the CMA."
Christopher Haskins, a former chairman of Northern Foods, one of the country's largest suppliers of package foods, said panic buying is possible.
"We could be in a sort of wartime situation of a limited amount of food rationing," he told the BBC. "Those who can remember the war, that took a long time to put into place and it was pretty haphazard and pretty unfair.
"I don't think we'll get to that, but I'm very concerned about the groups who aren't in the supermarket chain, how they will deal with things."