Imperial College London has been accused of joining the ranks of “project fear” after claiming that Brexit will cause 12,400 people to die from heart attacks and strokes.
A new study argues that changes to the UK’s trading arrangements will push up the price of imported fruit and vegetables, prompting diets to become more unhealthy.
The conclusions, based on modelling of World Trade Organization and HM Revenue and Customs data, have been fiercely criticised by economists who say the price of fruit and vegetables is more likely to fall after Britain leaves the EU.
The row came as leading supermarket and restaurant chains wrote to MPs warning Britain risks disruption of food supplies in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.
Meanwhile Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of Mi5, said she was “desperately worried” about the impact of Brexit on security in Britain and Northern Ireland.
Published in the journal BMJ Open, the new Imperial study, to which Liverpool University also contributed, argues that fruit and vegetable intake would fall under all scenarios they examined, but that the situation would be most grave following a no-deal Brexit.
Currently about 84 per cent of fruit and 43 per cent of vegetables eaten in the UK is imported.
The study said that under this scenario the cost of bananas would rise by “approximately 17 per cent, citrus fruits by 14 per cent, and tomatoes by 15 per cent”.
This, the researchers argue, would lead to 4,110 additional deaths from heart attack and heart failure between 2021 and 2030, and 8,290 deaths from stroke.
Professor Christopher Millet, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said the research “shows that the impact of Brexit will reach far beyond the economy and may affect people’s risk of disease”.
However, Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs said the predicted 17 and 14 per cent tariffs were based on current EU tariffs which the UK Government would be “most unlikely to copy”.
“It would be perverse to impose tariffs on food that we do not produce,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Edgar Miller, convenor of Economists for Free Trade said: “This is Project Fear at its very worst – a report written by a group of generally junior medical researchers none of whom have any discernible expertise in trade theory or experience in modelling trade flows.
“Getting rid of EU protectionism through free trade agreements and unilateral elimination of tariffs on fruit and vegetables that are not produced in the UK will result in an immediate fall in food prices.”
Signatories to the letter to MPs include executives from Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Lidl, Waitrose, The Co-op and Costcutter.
It was also signed by bosses from McDonald’s, KFC and Pret A Manger.
It warns: “We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no-deal Brexit.”
Baroness Manningham-Buller told the BBC: “If we leave without a deal we are going to be less safe.”