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Are people buying British, now that we’re out of the EU?

Diane Hall


Milk into a cup of tea

There was clear emphasis surrounding how much we imported when the decision to leave or remain was initially touted. The control Brussels exerted on our fishing industry, on the standard of our processed chicken, and the shape and size of our fruit/vegetables were factors in some people’s vote to leave the EU.

Fast forward a few years and we’re now out of the EU and more in control of decisions that affect our nation. But are we putting our money where our mouth is and ‘Buying British’?

Certainly, during the early days of the coronavirus calamity, there was a huge drive to buy local, to prevent the small businesses on our doorsteps being consumed by the pandemic. Now that most retail outlets have opened back up, are we staying loyal to them?

According to a poll held by The Independent at the start of the year, not long after Brexit was delivered, more than half of UK adults intended to buy more products and produce made and grown here. That poll existed before the Suez Canal crisis and before a shortage of workers in distribution affected the movement of goods across the UK; perhaps this statistic would be even higher now.

British Cream and scones

British Cream and scones

‘Buy British’ is a current slogan of the Labour party, referring to a raft of suggested measures they think the government should implement to improve the country’s economy and financial outlook for many of the small businesses hit hard by the pandemic. They also want to see the government awarding more contracts to businesses in the UK, rather than outsourcing to companies overseas. The Conservatives believe that there is a future for the UK and its export market. Now we can make our own trade deals with whomever we want, they still see the benefits of creating products on our island to sell to everyone else.

China and India were the largest global markets pre-pandemic; however, we’re not too happy with their most recent imports, namely the coronavirus and its many variants. Whereas products were always cheaper from these countries, particularly electrical components and other technologies, the last eighteen months will have seen the general public in the UK less keen than in previous years to buy from Asia.

The caveat to not buying from overseas is ironic, however. There are plenty of products manufactured in Britain that use components from other countries. This is not necessarily a choice—some items are simply not made in the UK because it’s not financially viable to do so. This is holding up the manufacture of said end products, which then results in a backlog and/or people turning to other countries for supply of the item in question.

The paperwork alone to import/export as a result of Brexit is still something many people are contending with, from both sides, despite the rules coming into force at the end of 2020. This confusion has seen some well-known companies, such as Asos and John Lewis, pausing delivery of their goods from the UK to Europe. Hidden charges/duty fees and VAT complications are still confusing many people.

Just how practical is it to buy British when it comes to food? Do we have the resources and supply to only buy from within our borders? In a word, no. According to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the country is only 60% efficient; if we didn’t import from other countries, our supermarkets’ shelves would be bare within a few months—a comment made in May of this year, and which I’ve personally seen to be coming true with each weekly shop, particularly concerning fresh produce. If we look at the vegetables we eat, the UK only produces 15% of what we consume as a nation. For years, it’s been cheaper to bring certain foodstuffs into the country than create the infrastructure needed to grow, harvest and distribute them here.

According to experts, it’s not economically beneficial to be a self-sufficient island, when you consider the revenue we see from exporting and the savings made when we import certain items. If we were to solely rely on what we grow/produce here, we’d find our diets severely limited.

The patriotism seen in recent months for British food and the support for businesses within our borders will never be a bad thing. However, if people believe we’d be better off as a country if we created a national version of Tom and Barbara in The Good Life, they’re being a little naïve.

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