The possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU with ‘no deal’ has raised the spectre of potential food shortages. Sustain comments, urging a fair, measured and well-planned approach to avoid unnecessary food disruption and anxiety, particularly for the 8.4 million people in the UK already living with food insecurity.
In response to recent stories about the possibility of food shortages in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, Sustain's chief executive Kath Dalmeny (also Sustain's Brexit Lead) said:
"The UK gets about 30 per cent of its food from other EU countries (a further 11% via deals done by the EU with other countries), so any serious disruption to the trade flow in food would have major consequences. Not least to the 8.4 million people in the UK who are already food insecure, who would have little resilience to rising food prices, nor to scarcity. Millions of people have no spare money to buy in extra food just in case, so talk of the need for stockpiling is distressing. A fair, measured and well-planned approach is vital to avoid causing unnecessary food disruption and anxiety, and to make sure that everyone can eat well."
"Sustain also strongly advocates that the British Government should treat as a high priority agreeing a trade deal with the EU. This is a sensible approach for securing our food supply and the livelihoods of British farmers, food businesses and the 3.9 million people employed in the UK's food and farming sectors. From all we have heard over the past two years, including from industry leaders representing small and large companies, a free trade deal with the EU is the UK's most sensible way forward."
For what ‘no deal’ could/would mean for British businesses, read the cool-headed summary from the Institute for Government. For a glimpse of the complexity of ‘legislating in the dark’ whilst navigating through myriad uncertainties, read Professor Mark Elliott, Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.
Another landmark report from Professors Tim Lang, Erik Millstone and Terry Marsden, with the Head of Policy for the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health Tony Lewis, warns that a ‘no deal’ Brexit “would jeopardise the sustainability and security of the UK’s food supply”. Their report Feeding Britain: Food security after Brexit urges Government to:
‘Notices of Preparedness’ for a no deal Brexit have been circulated to all affected sectors, setting out the implications of different UK-EU deal and no deal scenarios. No – not yet by the UK Government! Only by the EU-27, over the course of the past few months (published as one document last week). Theresa May said that 70 similar notices for the UK will be published later in August – possibly all on the same day – for different audiences, such as businesses, homeowners, farmers, hauliers and holidaymakers. Drafts have already caused a furore among pro-Brexit MPs, who deem them ‘too negative’; meanwhile The Times reports that companies and industry groups receiving such notices will be required to keep the contents secret, by signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).
The Government has said that stockpiling medicines and food may become necessary if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with several media outlets reporting the army would be on standby to help distribute emergency supplies. Notable for the differences in approach between two basic imported necessities – medicine (NHS already undertaking ‘significant planning’) and food (as far as we can tell – ‘open the food import borders and leave it to industry’):
Responding to the growing possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario with the European Union:
The Repeal Bill alliance has pointed out that a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with the possibility/likelihood of no transition period or extension for further negotiation, would make rapid acceleration of several UK policy processes necessary. The alliance says in its July 2018 report Scanning the Brexit Horizon, ‘no deal’ would mean the following would need to be legislated on by 20 March 2019. We note how many are relevant to food, farming and fishing – and are also highly contentious, not least in relation to future standards-setting, accountability, regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, trade deals and of course devolution:
For the historical record, the Brexit terms agreed by Cabinet ministers (in the Agatha-Christie style Chequers meeting on 6 July), with details confirmed in the subsequent White Paper, were generally welcomed in principle by food and farming leaders, shortly before being picked apart in the detail by resigning ministers, the media and EU negotiators. The Brexit White Paper stated that the UK proposes “a free trade area for goods, including agri-food… The UK and EU would maintain a common rule book… with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border.” The explicit itemisation of agri-food in both papers showing how important agri-food standards and trade arrangements are to the whole Brexit story. Responses included:
At the Royal Welsh Show in July, Michael Gove urged UK farmers to “keep their eyes on the prize” of a free trade deal with the EU and less red tape post Brexit. In an article in the Mail on Sunday, Michael Gove and fellow Cabinet member Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that “The Common Agricultural Policy would not be part of the rule book, and neither would food policy.* So our plan will allow us to deliver a better deal for our farmers and food producers. We can redirect the support we give them to both make them more competitive and to enhance the countryside they care for. The high animal welfare and environmental standards our farmers uphold give our food a world-leading reputation.”
*Food policy? What food policy? Michael Gove lightly sketched in a little more detail when giving evidence to a subsequent parliamentary committee. Defra non-executive director and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain Henry Dimbleby has been tasked with leading on the development of a food strategy for Defra, which is still “a long way off”. Henry Dimbleby previously worked with Michael Gove’s team and others (including Sustain) on the School Food Plan.
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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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.