Industry warns Gove of ‘crisis’ as it struggles with Brexit plans

Industry
12/02/2019 - 06:00
The food industry has warned the environment secretary, Michael Gove, of a ‘potential crisis’ if it cannot concentrate on Brexit plans.

In a letter seen by BuzzFeed News, representatives from 32 industry bodies ‘urged’ the government to delay a range of policy consultations until a trade deal has been resolved.

“At this moment of potential crisis in our industry, it cannot be ‘business as usual’ within government,” the letter said.

Sent last Friday (8 February), the letter outlined more than a dozen policy initiatives on which the government is looking for industry feedback, including a tax on packaging without at least 30% recycled content and advertising restrictions on fatty and sugary foods.

The policy changes would affect the industry significantly, however the letter has said that the people who would ordinarily contribute to formal responses are instead ‘overwhelmed’ by no-deal preparations.

“Businesses throughout the UK food chain – and their trade associations – are now totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit. Large amounts of time, money, people ad effort are being diverted to that end.”

In September 2018, the National Audit Office warned that it was ‘well behind’ on preparations for a no-deal exit; but the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) pressed on with initiatives not related to Brexit.

With less than two months until Britain leaves the EU, the representatives, who included UKHospitality, Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers Union, warned that they might not participate in future policy consultations if the government ignores their concerns. 

“If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond.”

A Defra spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: “Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority, and we are meeting weekly with representatives from our food and drink industry to help prepare for all scenarios.

“While we have intensified our no-deal planning, we are continuing to tackle other priority issues that matter to people, including our plans to reduce plastic waste and deliver a Green Brexit.”

The full letter and list of signatories are below

Dear Secretary of State

As representatives of a very broad swathe of the UK’s farming and food & drink supply-chain, we are writing to you today on a matter of great urgency and of deep concern to our members.

In fewer than 50 days, the UK will leave the European Union. The legal default is that we will do so irrespective of whether or not we have signed a withdrawal agreement and, at present, that no-deal Brexit looks ever more the likeliest outcome.

Businesses throughout the UK food chain – and their trade associations - are now totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit. Large amounts of time, money, people and effort are being diverted to that end.

At this moment of potential crisis for our industry, it cannot be ‘business as usual’ within government. Neither we nor our members have the physical resources nor organisational bandwidth to engage with and properly respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives at this time. Government has recruited many extra staff; we cannot.

We very strongly urge you therefore to require of your Cabinet colleagues that a range of current and planned consultations that will impact food and drink, some of which are expected shortly, are firmly and clearly placed on “pause” until this uncertainty is over. A list of the relevant consultations of which we are aware is given in the appendix to this letter.

If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond.

We are grateful for your assistance with this issue.

Ian Wright CBE, Chief Executive, Food and Drink Federation

Paul Rooke, Head of Policy, Agricultural Industries Confederation

Andrew Pollard, President, Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers

Pete Robertson, President, Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers

David Camp, Chief Executive, Association of Labour Providers

Chris Stemman, Director, British Coffee Association

Walter Anzer, Director General, British Food Importers and Distributors Association

John Hyman, Chief Executive, British Frozen Food Federation

Jack Ward, Chief Executive, British Growers Association

Nick Allen, Chief Executive Officer, British Meat Processors Association

Richard Griffiths, Chief Executive, British Poultry Association

Declan O’Brien, Director General, British Specialist Nutrition Association

Nick Bennett, Chairman, Council for Responsible Nutrition UK

Judith Bryans, Chief Executive, Dairy UK

Gordon Polson, Director, Federation of Bakers

James Bielby, Chief Executive, Federation of Wholesale Distributors

Nigel Jenny, Chief Executive, Fresh Produce Consortium

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