Millions of consumers could face “immediate” and “catastrophic” consequences in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the watchdog Which? has said.
The consumer group said the government’s preparations for a no-deal exit suggested a reduction in consumer rights and choice as well as price hikes that would have a “direct and hard” impact in areas ranging from travel to food and energy.
The watchdog, which based its conclusions on its assessment of the government’s technical notices in preparation for the event of a no-deal Brexit, online forums and surveys, said two in five people did not understand the potential implications of a no-deal scenario.
In its report – Brexit no deal: a consumer catastrophe? – Which? says: “Our latest consumer research shows that most people are unprepared for what ‘no deal’ would mean in practice – and many do not understand how it would have multiple impacts across so many aspects of their daily lives.
“When the everyday repercussions and government’s plans on issues such as food and medical supplies were explained to people in our research, many people were shocked and questioned why they had not been made aware of the implications sooner.”
A survey for the watchdog found three quarters of people thought it was likely a no-deal Brexit would lead to higher prices for food and other items (76 per cent) and delays at the border for travellers and holidaymakers (75 per cent).
Three in five (61 per cent) expected disruption to food supplies because of hold-ups at the border, 60% expected higher energy costs and 57 per cent believed there would be some flight restrictions, while 44 per cent thought medicine shortages were likely.
Three quarters (75%) also thought no deal would make it harder to resolve an issue with a faulty product bought online from an EU-based business, while 70 per cent believed it would be more difficult to rely on protections in a European country if travel companies collapse.
Which? director of policy Caroline Normand said: “Consumers want a Brexit that protects and enhances their rights and gives them access to a wider range of high-quality, affordable goods and services.
“But it’s clear that many are deeply concerned about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for families and businesses across Britain.
“From grounded flights and delays at borders and airports, to food shortages and soaring energy prices, the impact could be immediate and catastrophic for millions of people, with disruption on a scale not seen since the consumer chaos of the 1970s.
“The Government must agree a deal with the European Union to prevent a disaster scenario for consumers that hits them in the pocket and sees valuable rights effectively snatched away from them.”
Populus surveyed 2,056 UK adults online between August 3-5 and 2,100 UK adults online between 19-20 September.