The British Retail Consortium has written to Theresa May and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warning of dire consequences if frictionless trade is not preserved through a Brexit deal.

Ahead of a key meeting between the prime minister and her cabinet at Chequers tomorrow, the retail trade body warned that a “cliff-edge scenario” when the UK leaves the EU next year could result in “food rotting at ports” and higher prices for shoppers.

theresa may

Theresa May is holding a key cabinet meeting at Chequers this week

The BRC warned of “damaging consequences for millions of UK consumers and tens of thousands of EU-based producers if an agreement in the Brexit negotiations is not reached which protects the free flow of goods between the EU and UK from 29 March 2019”.

It argued that failure to reach a Brexit deal – the cliff-edge scenario – would mean new border controls and many “non-tariff barriers”, which would cause delays, waste and failed deliveries.

This result could be food rotting at ports, as well as higher prices as the cost of importing from the EU increases. For the EU, £21bn of exports to the UK would be at stake.

BRC chairman Richard Pennycook said: “We must avoid a cliff-edge scenario on the 29 March 2019 at all costs. Failure to achieve a smooth transition will create a lose-lose scenario for UK consumers and EU producers.

“Our food supply chain is complex, highly organised and ultimately fragile. Frictionless trade is essential if the industry is to continue to provide the level of choice and value in shops that UK consumers are used to seeing.

“It is now of the utmost importance that the UK Government proposes a workable solution to the backstop that gets the withdrawal agreement over the line and allows for a smooth transition.

“We need the EU to be flexible and creative in negotiation and recognise what is at stake for exports to the UK. Time is running out.”