The Government’s technical notices to help businesses prepare for Brexit show just how hard the food system would be hit in a no-deal scenario, says Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP and Efra Select Committee member.
As the clock ticks down towards 11pm, March 29 2019, when the UK is set to leave the European Union under the Article 50 process, the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ exit becomes ever more likely.
Some free trade zealots on the Government back benches might welcome this, but for most people – including many farmers – it is an alarming prospect.
‘No deal’ means no transition period. It means a cliff edge exit from the EU.
The consequences for UK food security would be significant, with high tariffs levied virtually overnight and the potential loss of a £13 billion export market for British food.
It would hit food imports too, 30 per cent of which come directly from the EU and another 11 per cent under EU trade deals with other countries.
And it would mean an end to frictionless trade as ‘non-tariff barriers’ come crashing down, with new border checks, paperwork and delays.
In August, while Parliament was in recess, the Government published some of its advice papers on how to prepare for no deal.
The majority of papers relating to food and farming are yet to be published – for example on food labelling and pesticides – but one on organic farming gives a taste of the challenges ahead.
It advised that organic farmers may not be able to export to the EU until UK organic certification is recognised by the European Commission, which may take until 2020.
An example of what Greener UK has described as a ‘yawning governance gap’ that will open up with the loss of access to EU agencies, while the UK struggles to put equivalent arrangements in place – which could be devastating for those businesses affected.
Some of the predictions in the press of impending food shortages, with talk of stockpiling food to avert disaster, might be alarmist, but there is no question that a no-deal scenario would hit our food system hard.
We – farmers, food producers and the public – urgently need reassurance from the Government that it is pulling out all the stops to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Yes, we need contingency planning in case the worst does come to pass, but what we really need from the Government is a recognition of the damage a no-deal Brexit would do to this country, and a determination to secure a deal which is in Britain’s best interests.
Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP