I know the chances of anyone paying attention to this article are slim, but it’s worth putting it out there nevertheless. If you are stockpiling to prepare for Brexit, as it increasingly is the fashion, you need to stop. You are doing yourself and the others around you more harm than good.
It may seem a sensible idea to buy a few extra items here, a few there when doing your “weekly shop” and store them in whatever cupboard, shed, garage, warehouse or hangar you are fortunate to have available.
But in fact it is just the opposite. A hard Brexit, if it happens, would not be a temporary phenomenon that lasts only a couple of weeks or a few months and then things go back to normal.
Those who advocate stockpiling – and their numbers are increasing – argue that they do so in order to ensure they have enough of their favourite products until traffic starts to cope again with the additional checks made on the goods coming and going across the Channel.
The UK government estimates that in the worst case scenario, disruption will last about six months. But unless the UK and the European Union do manage to reach an agreement to ensure smooth trade, I would call this the optimistic scenario, not the worst case one.
It is likely to take years, not months for traffic to cope with such a change, if a hard Brexit goes ahead and nothing is done to ensure traffic across the border is as frictionless as possible.
Those pointing out that traffic coped well before the single market regulations lifted the need for checks should listen to what Richard Burnett, Road Haulage Association chief executive, said last December about the situation.
Dover is used by around 11,000 trucks a day, which is three times the number of those using it before the creation of the single market in 1993, he said in an article in the Guardian, adding: “I can’t for the life of me see how this is going to work.”
His statement illustrates why stockpiling is futile. If there is a hard Brexit, you cannot build supplies to last for years, so you may as well not bother. If there is an agreement of sorts that would keep the goods flowing pretty much freely across the border, there is no point in stockpiling.
But what harm can stockpiling do? For one, it could lead to even more wasted food. You can only stockpile longer-lasting products such as beans, lentils, pulses, flour, tinned food, frozen goods — and chocolate, if you can resist the urge to eat it all at once.
If there is no disruption, you’ll soon get bored of these and they risk going off. If you think that’s OK, because you’ll take them to the food bank in advance of their “use by” date, well, everybody who stockpiled them will probably do the same. The food banks will be flooded with products with short shelf lives they won’t be able to donate quickly enough.
Another consequence of stockpiling could be equally, if not more, serious. If you buy more than you need just in case, and if enough people do this, this risks creating the very shortages you are afraid of. These in turn will push prices up; inflation could quickly spiral upwards.
This will initially hit the poorest in society, who don’t have the cash needed to stockpile to cope with temporary rises in prices, and possibly not even the space to store the goods, even if they were able to find the money to buy them.
A hard Brexit would push the pound’s exchange rate down versus the major currencies. Coming after a couple of months of increased demand, a plunge in the pound would encourage retailers to pass the full cost of the devaluation on to consumers. Food prices would go through the roof.
Again, the poorest will take the first hit. But after that, the rest of society will follow. The government will have to raise taxes to cope with the increased social burden, but the Bank of England will not be able to support the economy with lower interest rates or by purchasing assets as it did in the past, because these are inflationary.
You may think that buying a little extra every week with your usual shopping won’t make a difference; but if millions of people do it, it definitely will. So, if you are stockpiling, for all our sakes, please stop.