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The UK is facing a "cliff edge" on food prices, according to Nick Clegg

Mark Sands
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Clegg says prices will be hit by both trade tariffs and sterling depreciation (Source: Getty)

UK food prices could spike dramatically if the UK quits the Single Market, according to former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Clegg, now the EU spokesman for the Lib Dems, says British shoppers will face dramatically increased bills if the UK reverts to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules after Brexit.

The UK currently exports £11bn worth of agricultural products to the EU on an annual basis, with goods facing an average tariff of 22.3 per cent.

For some products, the barriers are higher still – WTO rules implement tariffs of 59 per cent on beef, 40 per cent on cheese and 38 per cent on chocolate.

And what's more, these charges will also have to be applied to imports until a trade deal is struck.

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As a result, Clegg is calling for the UK to strike either a temporary transition deal, or to retain some form of Single Market membership.

His warning comes days after a dispute between Unilever and Tesco sparked panic over the availability of products including Marmite, thanks in part to the immediate impact of the dropping value of sterling.

Speaking as the Lib Dems publish a new report on Brexit costs for consumers, Clegg said: “It’s clear that Marmite was just the tip of the iceberg.

“A hard Brexit will lead us off a cliff edge towards higher food prices, with a triple whammy of punishing tariffs, customs checks and workforce shortages.”

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An National Farmers Union study published ahead of the referendum suggested consumers could face an eight per cent increase in average food prices by 2025.

A spokesman for the department for international trade said: "As the Prime Minister has made clear we want to get the best possible deal for Britain when we leave the EU.

"That's why the government is focused on achieving the best possible outcome for consumers and businesses alike, while helping companies take advantage of new opportunities trading with economies across the world."

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