Brexit And The Looming Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Sandwich Famine


We’ve another of those confusions about what is to happen post-Brexit. The latest being that we’re going to run out of bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Or Danish bacon. Or summat. Something which isn’t true given what WTO terms really mean for trade. But then The Guardian manages to even mangle that idea. Something to do with arts graduates and numeracy no doubt:

The government may be stockpiling medicines but the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has promised consumers there will be no shortage of ingredients for the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich in the event the UK crashes out of the EU.

But Britain’s leading bacon supplier, the owner of Danepak, warned that while there may not be shortages, the price of the BLT might go up as the vast majority of rashers come from the EU and could be hit by tariffs.

Raab made his remarks to rebut recent claims by the British Sandwich Association there could be a shortage of fresh food in the event of the UK crashing out of the UK.

“Who is credibly suggesting in a no-deal scenario the EU would not want to sell food to UK consumers? Let me assure you that, contrary to one of the wilder claims, you will still be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit,” said Raab.

Well, yes. And no, obviously. The question of whether food imports into Britain are hit by tariffs is something which is up to us, Britons, to decide. We get to choose this – should we tax ourselves because we buy foreign or should we not tax ourselves because we buy foreign? Entirely up to us, as has been pointed out before:

To insist, meanwhile, that we must raise tariffs on the imports we desire is to misunderstand the WTO system. As a source in Geneva explains, Britain is a WTO member in its own right and will still be so even after Brexit happens. This means that we have promised not to charge higher than the allowable ceilings in tariffs upon imports from other WTO members. The Most Favoured Nation clause also states that whatever we do decide to charge ourselves, we must apply the same rate to the same products from all different WTO countries.

But not charging higher than the allowable ceilings does not commit us to charging anything at all. We can apply a 0 per cent rate (yes, I checked) if we so wish.

Or again:

Think about it just for a moment. We are being told that Brexit could mean tariffs on imported food, so we need a trade deal to stop food being more expensive. At the same time we cannot just not charge tariffs on imported food because that would make food cheaper. And that, folks, is the way we are governed.

What is actually happening is, of course, the special interests are sticking their oar in. The National Farmers’ Union and other producers are currently adjusted to those imports from Europe. They don’t want to have to compete against the rest of the world as well.

So we get this perversion of logic where free trade with Europeans is great and must be protected, but free trade with those we don’t share a continent with must be verboeten. If it weren’t such a cliché these days we’d be calling that out as racism, wouldn’t we?

It really is true that the House of Lords committee tells us both that tariffs make food more expensive but that we must retain tariffs, because removing them would make food cheap.

So, we Britons decide not to tax ourselves for the pleasure of eating Danish bacon sandwiches and the price of Danish bacon sandwiches will not rise. Job done really.

Rather gorgeously though The Guardian manages to get matters even more wrong:

The EU tariff on non-EU bacon is about €68 to the kilo. Britain may have to pay an extra 15p on the price of a pack of eight rashers.

We’re leaving the EU. Meaning that any EU tariff is irrelevant unless we’re trying to export into the EU, not the thing we’re talking about at all. The tariff level which might be interesting is the WTO – that permitted maximum. The relevant tariff not being the one we’re given. But then think on it a little more. 8 rashers of back bacon (streaky is normally in 6 or 12 rasher packs) is some 250 grammes. And it really is impossible to see how a €68 per kg duty translates into a 15p per 250 gramme price difference. It’s not even possible to see what the mistake is, is it? €6.8 euro doesn’t work either. 68 euro cents maybe? Oh, and if non-EU bacon really does face a €68 per kg import duty then it’s going to get rather cheaper when we drop back down to WTO tariff levels even if we assume we’re stupid enough to charge ourselves any at all.

The reporting on this issue is simply pants, isn’t it? Entirely, totally, pants.