Number 10 and the Department for Exiting the EU have asked Defra to look at a plan to unilaterally drop all food tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Farmers Guardian has learned.
The Department of International Trade was said to be considering the proposal last year as part of its own ‘Project After’ no-deal planning, but the option is now being reconsidered as fears about potential food price spikes grow.
A Defra spokesman told FG the department ‘remained confident’ the UK and EU would agree a mutually advantageous deal, but admitted a range of options for a future tariff regime were being looked at.
“We will consider carefully the evidence available to us before making a final decision in the interests of British industry and consumers,” the spokesman said.
“When it comes to products imported to the UK, quality, safety and performance will continue to be paramount.”
NFU deputy president Guy Smith said he could understand why the Government was concerned about the prospect of interrupted food supplies in a no-deal scenario.
“I can also appreciate why raging food inflation might cause alarm in political circles,” he added.
“But in all of this, we need a sober assessment of what the impact would be on British farm businesses and the wider food industry.
“A sudden knee-jerk dropping of tariffs on food imports has implications for the ability of British farmers to maintain high standards in the face of lower standard imports.”
CLA director of policy Christopher Price said the plan showed why reaching a deal with the EU was ‘vital’, while Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain, said ‘a no-deal food crisis was not what the British people voted for’.
“We have consistently made it clear to Ministers the significant negative impact this would have on the rural economy,” Mr Price added.