Asda chief executive Roger Burnley has warned of the “significant consequences” a hard Brexit could have on the grocery industry.
Burnley has become the latest retail leader to weigh in on the debate, claiming a no-deal scenario would leave food rotting at borders and have financial implications for the food retail sector.
He said the introduction of checks on produce entering the UK would “be eating into the life of products with all sorts of implications for waste, for freshness, for quality”.
And Burnley urged the government to deliver “certainty” around Britain’s exit from the EU as ministers continue their negotiations with Brussels.
The calls from the Asda boss, made during an interview with The Independent, came just hours before Brexit secretary David Davis quit.
Davis claimed in his resignation letter that it looked “less and less likely” the Tories would deliver on the Brexit result and its commitment to leave the customs union and single market.
In a hammer blow to Prime Minister Theresa May at what is a crucial point in the negotiations, Davis added: “The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”
May is currently facing a backlash against plans for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, which Davis said would make “control by Parliament illusory rather than real”.
His junior ministers, Steve Baker and Suella Braverman, have also resigned.
Davis’s shock decision to quit has added to the uncertainty surrounding Britain’s exit from the union – a position that has sparked warnings from a number of retailers.
Mike Coupe, the boss of Sainsbury’s – which is in the process of merging with Asda – has voiced similar concerns around food rotting at borders.
And Tesco boss Dave Lewis has warned that the potential introduction of tariffs on grocery products would see prices rise at the shelf edge.
Burnley said: “What would be scary is the prospect of any hold-up at the border. Any prospect of a hold-up – that includes the Ireland border – would have very significant consequences.
“You’d be eating into the life of products with all sorts of implications for waste, for freshness, for quality.”
He added: “Like any business, we all want certainty and to know what is happening, but we want hassle-free frictionless borders, it’s number one on my list.
“A lot of our meat comes from Ireland, the prospect of a border control that slowed things down there would be quite dramatic on that part of our business.”