Amid fears that a potential ‘hard Brexit’ could lead to the UK facing damaging trade barriers with neighbouring countries, a host of bodies representing the UK food and drink supply chain have signed an open letter calling on the Government to secure an early agreement on future trade with the Republic of Ireland.
Parliament passed the Brexit bill last night, paving the way for the government to trigger Article 50 so the UK can begin talks to leave the European Union. 35 representative food and drink bodies issued the letter yesterday, which said:
A key priority for the food and drink industry is to secure tariff-free trade with the EU, which remains our largest external market and our largest source of imported supplies.
This is of particular importance in the case of the Republic of Ireland, our only land border with the EU. It buys more from us than the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, Canada and Japan combined. Nearly a fifth of UK food and drink exports go to Ireland, with more than a third of Ireland’s reaching UK shores. A quarter of all Northern Irish milk is processed in the South. More than half of Irish beef and cheese goes to the UK. The UK supplies 80 per cent of the flour used in the Republic. We could go on.
The seamless single market in food and drink across the UK and Ireland allows the free movement of goods and workers. It also means that the majority of food sourced in Ireland from EU and international sources, particularly fresh produce, arrives via ports and supply chains from across the whole of the UK. This complete interdependence is essential to ensuring our food security and to feeding both countries.
We represent the UK’s agri-food and drink sector. It employs four million people or 13.5 per cent of the UK workforce. Our industry needs Government to ensure existing tariff-free trading arrangements between the UK and Ireland are maintained.
New disruptive customs barriers, port health controls and other costly bureaucratic requirements that impede the movement of goods and workers must be avoided. They would disrupt established supply chain networks that operate across the UK and Ireland and would cause significant economic damage while adding to existing food price inflation faced by consumers.
A cliff-edge scenario that results in a sudden transformation to our trading arrangements with Ireland would be hugely damaging for our industry and for the wider economy on both sides of the border.
In the event that new customs requirements cannot be avoided, continuity and predictability for business must be a priority. Government would need to evaluate the administrative and regulatory requirements and put in place robust plans to deliver transitional arrangements that minimise disruption and provide sufficient time to allow businesses to adapt.
We are pleased that the Prime Minister is seeking a ‘frictionless’ border between the UK and Ireland post-Brexit. It is imperative that once Article 50 is triggered the future border arrangements are high on the target list for prompt resolution. Government should make a clear and early statement of principle that it is committed to maintaining this trade with Ireland and that it will make it a priority in negotiations.
The letter was co-signed by chief executives of the following organisations:
Ian Wright Director General, Food and Drink Federation
David Caffall Chief Executive, Agricultural Industries Confederation
James Smith President, Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers
David Camp Chief Executive, Association of Labour Providers
Kate Nicholls Chief Executive, Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers
Andy Tighe Policy Director, British Beer and Pub Association
Ufi Ibrahim Chief Executive, British Hospitality Association
Nick Allen Chief Executive, British Meat Processors Association
Richard Griffiths Chief Executive, British Poultry Council
Helen Dickinson Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium
Gavin Partington Director General, British Soft Drink Association
Declan O’Brien Director General, British Specialist Nutrition Association
Sam Jennings Technical Adviser, 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
Andy Richardson Chair, Food and Drink Wales Industry Board
Nigel Jenney CEO, Fresh Produce Consortium
Graham Keen Executive Director, Health Food Manufacturers’ Association
Liz Murphy CEO, International Meat Trade Association
Alex Waugh Director General, National Association of British and Irish Millers
Bob Price Director and Policy Adviser, National Association of Cider Makers
Terry Jones Director General, National Farmers’ Union
Michael Bell Executive Director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association
Conall Donnelly Executive Director, Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association
Dick Searle Chief Executive, Packaging Federation
Michael Bellingham Chief Executive, Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association
John Smith Chief Executive, Proprietary Association of Great Britain
Andrew Kuyk Director General, Provision Trade Federation
Julie Hesketh-Laird Acting CEO, Scotch Whisky Association
Simon Cripps Chairman, Seasoning and Spice Association
Steve Morgan Chair, UK Flavour Association
John Whitehead Director, UK Food and Drink Exporters Association
Wesley Aston Chief Executive, Ulster Farmers’ Union
Miles Beale Chief Executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association