Tesco boss Dave Lewis has warned that leaving the EU in October would be “much more challenging” for retailers than the previously planned March Brexit.

Lewis cautioned that shortages in “sheer physical capacity” in their warehouses heading into the golden quarter would limit grocery retailers’ ability to stockpile products.

Tesco previously stockpiled goods in “long-life” categories, such as tinned products, rice and pasta, ahead of the UK’s original Brexit date on March 29, 2019.

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Dave Lewis: ‘The capacity in the supply chain in the UK will be more challenged in October than it was in March’

But after failing to strike an exit deal with Brussels, outgoing prime minister Theresa May agreed to delay the UK’s departure from the EU until October 31.

Lewis said although Tesco had “sold down” its stockpiled stock since March, it was “too early” to begin stockpiling again for October.

He warned that a lack of space in retailers’ warehouses could prevent them from doing so to the same extent as they did at the start of the year.

“The one thing I would say is that October, from a retail point of view, will be much more challenging than March was,” Lewis said.

“We come out of a very busy Halloween period in October and we would be building stock for the Christmas peak. The capacity in the supply chain in the UK will be more challenged in October than it was in March.”

However, Lewis downplayed the impact this could have on availability for customers ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period.

“It’s not the availability of stock that’s the issue, it’s the space that will be the issue when we come to October,” he added.

“In March, we had come out of Christmas and it is a low point in annual volumes. You have more space in terms of warehousing.

“When we come to October, we will be using that warehousing space as we build up stock for Christmas. Therefore, there is less spare capacity to be able to put additional stock in.”

The Tesco chief executive said there was “no point” in stockpiling stock now ahead of October 31, but the retailer would “review those plans” as the new Brexit date approached.

The 10 candidates to replace May as leader of the Conservative party – and therefore as prime minister – appear divided over the October Brexit deadline and the UK’s stance on negotiations, further complicating matters for retailers as they assess their preparation strategies.

Boris Johnson insisted he is “not aiming for a no-deal outcome” for the UK, while home secretary Sajid Javid said although he wanted to strike a revised deal, he would pick no-deal over no Brexit.

One of the outsiders in the race, former chief whip Mark Harper, said it was “not possible or credible” to leave the EU on the terms of a new deal by October 31.

However, Andrea Ledsom called October a “hard red line” and said Brexit would happen on that date in “all circumstances” if she were to become leader.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said his Brexit strategy was “eminently deliverable” by October 31, but added that Parliament “will not allow a no-deal Brexit to happen”.

Tesco boss Lewis warns of ‘challenging’ October Brexit