LEADING retailers have warned that a no-deal Brexit will drive up food prices and pose a “significant” risk to the range and quality of products on supermarket shelves.

A letter to MPs warned that tariffs would “greatly” increase import costs if the UK is forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules, while potential delays at ports will “reduce the availability and shelf life of many products in our stores”.

Meanwhile, a former MI5 chief warned that a no-deal Brexit should be “avoided at all costs”.

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller said that a range of security threats – from terrorism to Russian interference – were best dealt with “in a European context”, telling BBC Radio 4: “If we leave without a deal we are going to be less safe. I am pretty queasy that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is so in favour of Brexit – I think that should give us all pause.”

Signatories to the retailers’ letter include Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer, the Co-op, Lidl, Waitrose, Costcutter, KFC, McDonald’s and Pret A Manger as well as the British Retail Consortium.

They warned that the UK relies on Europe for almost one-third of its food, and that it will not be possible in a no-deal scenario to mitigate all risks to supply chains, many of which involve highly perishable goods.

“In March, the situation is more acute as UK produce is out of season: 90% of our lettuces, 80% of our tomatoes and 70% of our soft fruit is sourced from the EU at that time of year,” said the letter.

The supermarket and restaurant chain bosses said: “We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit.

“We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation

and tariffs.

“We are therefore asking you to work with your colleagues in Parliament urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no-deal Brexit on March 29 and removes these risks for UK consumers.”

Commenting, SNP Agriculture and Rural Affairs spokesperson Deidre Brock MP said: “Food shortages and empty shelves in shops is the latest in a long list of no-deal Brexit bad news. It’s within the gift of Theresa May and her Tory government to rule out the madness of a no-deal Brexit and these stark warnings must be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“Food imports would be all but stopped by customs chaos after a no-deal Brexit and the threat of a restriction on seasonal workers has already seen Scottish farms being forced to leave crops rotting in the fields instead of being picked and sent to market.  

“That’s on top of the reduction in food production caused by the restriction on seasonal workers meaning that farmers in Scotland would have had to leave crops rotting in the fields instead of being picked and sent to market.”