HERE’S a question: when is it prudent to start stockpiling for Brexit?

I ask because over the past week, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in people’s attitudes to the increasing likelihood of a no deal departure from the European Union. On my social media scrolls, there have been a marked number of people posting up pictures of buying additional food provisions. And the people doing this are all good, practical, reasonable individuals.

Previously, those putting extra food aside has been seen as overreacting. Viewers of ITV’s This Morning castigated one woman who had bought up six month’s worth of extra food, installed solar panels and a water tank in her house. A company in Leeds, meanwhile, launched a somewhat opportunistic £295 ‘Brexit Box’, consisting of 60 freeze-dried meals, a water filter and fire starter.

Attitudes, though, are beginning to change. According to one more recent survey, one in six of us have either started or are planning to start stockpiling food and medical supplies. A Mumsnet thread about someone creating a ‘Brexit cupboard’ received over 1,000 supportive comments. To the terms Remainers and Leavers, a new term can be added into the Brexit jargon: the Preppers.

The messages coming from on high remain mixed. Back in 2018, the then Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab promised there would be ‘adequate’ food supplies in the case of no deal. Last week, Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Co-op and Waitrose countered with a joint letter warning of disrupted food supplies and potentially higher prices.

As with many modern industries, the ‘just-in-time’ business model looms large here: no stockpiles of stuff equals no warehouse costs equals better margins. That’s fine when goods are flowing freely into the UK, but any hold-ups quickly throw this concept out of kilter. These problems are exacerbated around the time of the leave date because of the ‘hunger gap’ – that time of year when fresh supplies from the previous year have run out and new crops have yet to arrive. For example, 90% of our spring lettuces and 80% of our tomatoes come from the EU to plug the shortfall. Nigel Farage, I’m guessing, is not a man who eats much salad.

It’s a confusing picture. There seems to be a growing disconnect between politicians saying everything will be ok, and civil servants worrying behind the scenes about ‘battle rhythms’ and what might happen if the UK faces both a no deal Brexit and a ‘Bridges’ scenario at the same time. Nobody knows whether we are seven weeks away from a Millennium Bug type damp squib or a Springtime of Discontent for the ages.

So my question again: when is it prudent to start stockpiling for Brexit?