2018, September: Sustain Brexit Forum: Delivering the Goods

Photo of Sustain Brexit Forum at Oxford Real Farming Conference 2018

Photo of Sustain Brexit Forum at Oxford Real Farming Conference 2018

With less than six months until Brexit Day, the new Parliamentary session has begun. Decisions and legislation are now being made about how the UK will in future govern farming and the environment; protect fish stocks and marine ecosystems; allocate public subsidies and conduct international trade in agri-food products. A food strategy for Defra is promised.

Yet we must also navigate a potentially rocky exit period of unknown length, with the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit that could put our food system into major disruption. There is talk of food shortages, British farmers losing export markets, delays to trucks leaving or entering our country, and development of new infrastructure to deal with standards and governance.

With clear heads, and working together, what do we need to know and do to ensure that consumers, businesses and farmers get a good deal from Brexit; that everyone can enjoy a secure supply of good food; that high standards of public health, welfare and environmental protection are maintained; and that we ‘deliver the goods' for a Better Food Britain? 


Session 1: Taking stock

Key policy initiatives

Progress updates, what’s coming up and what are our priorities for action, with input from specialists working on these issues from across the Sustain alliance. Overview and then facilitation by Kath Dalmeny, Brexit Lead for the Sustain alliance, followed by:

  • Agriculture: Bill and policy, what’s in and out; priority amendments; political responses –Vicki Hird, Sustainable Farming Coordinator for Sustain
  • Fisheries: Bill and policy, what’s in and out; priority amendments; political responses –Ruth Westcott, Sustainable Fish Coordinator for Sustain
  • Trade: the Bill, standards and trade negotiations – Orla Delargy, Parliament and Communications Lead for Sustain
  • Environment: Principles & Governance Bill, and the proposed environmental watchdog – Amy Mount, Head of the Greener UK Unit, Green Alliance
  • Key Brexit legislation: Withdrawal Agreement and opportunities to influence – Jane Thomas, Brexit Civil Society Alliance, which is coordinated by Unlock Democracy
  • Animal Welfare: Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience Bill and policy – Nick Palmer, Head of Compassion UK, Compassion in World Farming
  • Food standards and deregulation: Regulatory Reform Committee; business impact target – Maddy Carroll, who has been working in detail on standards and deregulation
  • Public Health: The Do No Harm principle; concerns about trade deals 

Session 2: Strategy sessions

Three parallel discussion groups were chaired by Sustain alliance coordinators. These discussions helped to inform and shape Sustain alliance priorities and activities on key Brexit-related themes for the coming months. The three parallel discussions focused on:

Strategy session (A): Agriculture

With the draft UK Agriculture Bill now in full parliamentary swing, this is a meeting of Sustain’s Sustainable Farming working party (other Brexit Forum delegates welcome to join in), to strategise about how we can best exert influence on key issues, including:

  • What elements we’ve won so far, and how we can defend and champion these.
  • What’s missing? Which of the proposed Agriculture Bill amendments already in discussion should we prioritise, and what opportunities are there to do so?
  • How can we exert pressure on vital overarching issues, such as the need for a multi-annual long-term budget based on need; the lack of duties, not just powers in the Bill; and the need for it to connect to targets and regular impact review.
  • Ensuring our support for cross-cutting issues such as labelling and regulation; and sister alliances/groups Greener UK and CIWF  and public health groups in their proposed amendments on environment, animal welfare and public health.

Strategy session (B): Fisheries

Great strides have been made on UK agriculture policy by joining up farming, environment and policy groups to champion an approach that values environmental conservation, sustainable production and decent livelihoods in food production. We discussed how we can bring a similarly integrated approach to bear on fish policy, making best use of emerging opportunities, including:

  • What elements we’ve won so far, and how we can defend and champion these.
  • The case for an integrated sustainable fisheries and sustainable livelihoods policy.
  • The UK Fisheries Bill that looked in doubt, but is now probably back on the agenda following statements by Michael Gove at the Conservative Party Conference.
  • The UK Agriculture Bill has elements highly relevant to sustainable fisheries: ‘public money for public goods’; fair trading; powers to require industry data; repatriation of EMFF money to UK control (but without spending parameters). How can we use these opportunities?
  • Ensuring that sustainable fishery policy gains media and political attention, in the right way.

Strategy session (C): International trade

We are caught in limbo, with talk of ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’ with the EU, and the possibility of a ‘no deal’ raising the prospect of imminent new trade deals. Yet there is scant policy or governance to ensure protection of the environment and public health. We discussed:

  • What we now understand about the implications of trade deals for food standards. We will aim to play a serious yet light-hearted game trying to take various foods across various borders, with commentary from those who understand how trade rules work.
  • What are the ‘Big Boys’ saying? – the main countries that UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox is courting for new trade deals. What are the threats and opportunities?
  • What would a good food trade policy look like, and how should we champion it?

Plenary: Feedback and priorities

Chaired by Kath Dalmeny: Feedback from the chairs of each strategy session on priorities for action; facilitated discussion about shared needs, tasks and responsibilities.


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Brexit

We stand at a cross-roads. When the UK leaves the European Union, will our leaders uphold good standards for our food, farming, fishing and trade deals? And will they agree a sensible deal with the EU? We need to make sure that they do!

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