The Government has left businesses in a state of Brexit uncertainty for too long, and it still remains unclear how we will trade with the EU in less than 100 days. That is astonishing, says Sue Pritchard, chief executive of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission.
There’s a dark twist to the standard saying at this time of year.
Instead of ‘oooh – less than 100 days to Christmas!’ it’s ‘Oh! Less than 100 days to the end of the Brexit transition period!’
It’s nearly October, and we still don’t know the terms on which we’ll be trading with world.
I’m well beyond astonishment at the actions of a Government willing to leave so many businesses and families in a state of material uncertainty and anxiety for so long.
It’s a reflection, I think, of the internal battles still playing out behind closed doors inside the governing party, for the kind of Brexit we’ll actually get, now the time for sloganeering has passed.
I’m grateful that the House of Lords continues to show up for transparent and reasoned debate.
This week, their lordships passed amendments from Lord Curry, strengthening the Trade and Agriculture Commission, Lord Grantchester, upholding UK food standards, Lord Krebs, on sustainable food and health and Baroness Jones, on financing environmental improvements.
For all the talk of the UK’s ‘undemocratic’ second chamber, it is members of the House of Lords who are seeking to understand and reflect what matters to British people.
And we do know a bit more about what matters to citizens in food and farming matters.
Earlier this year, I gave evidence to Climate Assembly UK. Commissioned by Government select committees, a representative group of 110 citizens were brought together over a period of six months to consider a wide range of issues affecting climate, and to make recommendations to Government.
Their report, The Path to Net Zero, was published a couple of weeks ago.
It demonstrates clearly that when the public are given comprehensive and clear information and evidence, they want to do the right things, even when it is hard.
Most of all they want to be fair – to people in different places and sectors.
On food and land use, their first and highest priority recommendation was to provide support for farmers to help them make the transition to climate and nature-friendly farming.
Not far behind were recommendations which prioritised local seasonal food production, curbs on the power of supermarkets and processors, to ensure fair prices for farmers, food system workers and consumers, making low carbon and healthy food the most affordable.
These citizens understood that many co-benefits accrue – for people, for communities, for nature - from a planned and just transition in the actions needed to avert a worsening climate crisis.
Yet right now our elected representatives are willing to countenance an unplanned and disorderly end to the Brexit transition period.
At a time when things are more intense than ever, and the arguments are polarising between complex technical details or simplistic populist slogans, at FFCC, we’ve decided to get back to basics on trade policy goals.
We’re asking: what kind of country do we want to be? What do we want to stand for, in the world?
Trade Unwrapped, launched this week, is about understanding and amplifying the public mandate for a new trade policy; one which supports UK businesses fairly to succeed on a world stage and sees the UK taking up leadership in putting trading rules in place which are good for the health and prosperity of people and planet.
Working with Chatham House, and supported by a cross-sector advisory board, we’re publishing a series of straightforward, evidence-based papers, and ‘kitchen table conversations’ – short films featuring people with different perspectives, experts and members of the public – talking about trade and how it impacts on every aspect of our everyday lives.
You can get involved too. On www.tradeunwrapped.uk, you’ll find ways to send us your comments.
We want to hear about what really matters to you, when trade impacts our food, jobs, health, the environment, and climate change.
What standards should we live by? How should we aim to stand out in the world marketplace? What are we prepared to accept in return, as a global trading partner? Where are our red lines?
We want you to help us explain to people who are making trade deals on our behalf, what they should be prioritising.
This moment in time is crucial for the UK.
We stand at a fork in the road in defining ourselves as a country with the rest of the world, forging new trading relationships to meet our commitments enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.
The citizens in the Climate Assembly said this: ‘Some of our strongest views centre on leadership… It is imperative that there is strong and clear leadership from Government – leadership to forge a cross-party consensus that allows for certainty, long-term planning and a phased transition.’
They were talking about the climate emergency; it couldn’t be more true for this next few weeks.
Sue can be found tweeting at @suepritch