My #Remainer’s Diary Day 303: the day began with media reports about a new briefing paper called “A Food Brexit: time to get real” published by the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University, and downloadable for free from its website. The SPRU said in a press release that this is the first major review of the ways leaving the EU will have an impact on UK food and farming.The 88-page paper, authored by three professors on food policy: Erik Millstone (University of Sussex), Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Terry Marsden (Cardiff University). Experts.
This is how the trio conclude their summary: “The realities of a Food Brexit are awesome. The British public has not been informed about its implications. Many people who voted for Brexit will be hardest hit by a ‘hard’ Brexit – people on low incomes, the elderly, farmers, people in the North of England. This paper urges politicians, civil society and academics who understand the food system to speak up and speak out. Brexit is a political construct. It should not be a recipe for food insecurity.” The trio conclude that leaving the European Union poses serious risks to consumer interests, public health, businesses and workers in the food sector, because there is no Government vision for UK food or agriculture. There will be a vacuum where previously there were the policies and organisations of the EU. Prices, quality, supply and the environment will all be adversely affected by Brexit.
The report highlights 16 key issues that must be urgently addressed by the Government. They include
* Filling the policy void on UK food
* Clarification on food crossing borders, particularly the Irish land border
* Replacing the large body of EU law relating to food
* Food security – the sector already lacks resilience
* Replacing at least 30 EU-based scientific and regulatory bodies that keep our food fit to eat
* Replacing the CAP and CFP which keep UK farmers and fishermen going
* Migrant labour – a third of the UK’s food sector depends on it
* Sourcing – where UK food will come from in future, as we are a long way from self sufficiency
* Tariffs – they could raise imported food prices by 22%
* Prices rises and volatility hitting the poorest the hardest
* Quality standards may well decline abruptly.
And more. The report examines available industry and government data, policies and literature as well as interviews with “senior figures in the food chain” on production, farming, employment, quality, safety standards and the environment among other issues.
It warns that a “Food Brexit” is of unprecedented importance and is happening at a time when the UK food system is already vulnerable, with self-sufficiency also in decline.
The three professors say their report is a wake-up call to the public and Government.
Professor Millstone said: “In the EU, UK consumers and public health have benefited from EU-wide safety standards, without which there will be a risk of the UK having less safe and nutritious products…
“Since the Brexit referendum UK food and agricultural policy has been in chaos. Not only have ministers yet to develop a strategy or make decisions, they have not even grasped the issues about which urgent decisions are needed. Unless things change rapidly, and in line with our recommendations, the UK will not only have policy chaos, the food system itself will become increasingly chaotic.”
Professor Marsden said:
“The UK’s food system already faces unprecedented challenges on environment and jobs – we see real dangers that these are already being dislocated by Brexit uncertainties.”
Professor Lang said: “UK food security and sustainability are now at stake. A food system which has an estimated three to five days of stocks cannot just walk away from the EU, which provides us with 31 per cent of our food…
“At least the UK entered World War Two with emergency plans. No-one has warned the public that a Food Brexit carries real risks of disruption to sources, prices and quality…
“Food is the biggest slice of EU-related regulations and laws, yet so far the Government has only sketchily flagged a new Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act in the Queen’s Speech…
“The Government has provided next to no details on agriculture and fisheries, and there has been total silence on the rest of the food chain where most employment, value adding and consumer choice are made. With the Brexit deadline in 20 months, this is a serious policy failure on an unprecedented scale.”
Food prices in Britain are already rising in response to the collapse in the pound last year. Food producer output price inflation rose by 5.6% in May. Pantheon Economics says it is likely that food CPI inflation “will continue to rise over the coming months, reaching 5% in Q4.”
The SPRU report follows a similar warning from Justin King, the former CEO of Sainsbury’s, recently that Brexit will mean higher prices, less choice and poorer quality food and that consumers are “completely in the dark” about this.
In Brussels, David Davis, the UK’s poorly-regarded Brexit minister, and his aides sat down opposite Michel Barnier and his aides to start negotiations. Pictures immediately flashed round the social media world as people digested with incredulity that Barnier and Team came well prepared with thick piles of briefing papers but Davis’s team had no papers at all in front of them. A photograph of Davis looking up at the camera with a cheeky grin made the impression worse.
The first day’s talks did not last long.
In London two Parliamentary Select Committee chairs called for the Government’s assurances to Toyota to be published.
Nicky Morgan, new Treasury Select Committee chair, said in an emailed statement: “To provide clarity to the public, as the assurances may cost the taxpayer money, and to other businesses, who are craving certainty to plan for Brexit, the letters should be published immediately.”
Rachel Reeves, new chair of the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said it was unacceptable that the government had refused to disclose its private reassurances to Toyota. “It is vital that the government is not seen to be cutting sweetheart deals or granting special favours that could undermine our negotiating position.”
It’s painful, this saga of stupidity – more, of duplicity.