A letter written to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which was leaked to the press, says
businesses are “totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit” and consultations relevant to the industry cannot carry on as planned, given the strain on the sector.
Some 32 trade body leaders signed the letter, including Kate Nicholls, chief executive officer of UKHospitality, and Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation.
They said the sector does not have the resources to adequately address non-Brexit policy consultations and can’t recruit more staff.
Sign of bad faith
“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,” sector leaders cautioned.
Signatories called for a publication delay of consultations into a deposit return scheme, proposals for a tax on plastic items with less than 30% recycled content and proposals to restrict advertising for sugary or high-fat foods.
Other consultations referenced included reviews into the supply chain such as into improving water management in the environment and the farming industry’s use of pesticides.
Nicholls told The Morning Advertiser: “Brexit is at the forefront of everything at the minute and it is continuing to cause a huge amount of uncertainty for businesses. It is inconceivable that businesses should be forced to think about anything else until, at the very least, we know what sort of Brexit we are facing.
“Issues like the deposit return scheme, a possible plastic tax, and restrictions on food and drink advertising are going to have far-reaching effects on pubs and bars. Ideally, we need to able to devote our full focus into getting to grips with these potential changes. We cannot do anything like that while we are putting all our energies into a Brexit that is getting no clearer.”
A no-deal Brexit was described as a “disastrous” prospect for the hospitality sector by Nicholls when MPs voted against Prime Minister Theresa May’s first offering of a withdrawal agreement last month.
Drinks manufacturers echoed this sentiment in a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) report committee published last year.
The full letter sent to Gove
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.