Chiding many food industry leaders who support EU membership but have chosen to remain silent, Wright told the panel discussion: “Business leaders should be engaging more in the debate [about the benefits of EU membership] than they are.”
Wright added: “Frankly our business executives should grow a pair.”
‘Executives should grow a pair’
The fact that individual business leaders who back remaining in the EU were “ducking below the parapet”, in terms of their public support, was “very worrying”, he told the show audience.
The FDF boss said it was crucial business leaders made the case for continued membership of the EU because the EU was poor at communicating the benefits of membership and executives were more likely to be believed than politicians.
“The EU is absolutely rubbish at putting its own case,” he said. “But that does not mean we should leave.”
Also, the public was far more likely to listen to business and community leaders than politicians.
Three key factors
The case for continued membership – underpinned by three key factors – was clear, he claimed. Those were: first, access to the EU market of more than 500M customers.
Second, the benefits flowing from the profitable trade agreements negotiated by the EU. Scotch whisky exports would be critically damaged by a decision to quit the EU – arising from the loss of the lucrative Chinese and Indian markets – he said.
Third, access to the EU workforce was a benefit to food and drink manufacturers nationwide. “A decision to leave the EU would put these people [EU workers employed by food manufacters] at a disadvantage and that would make the skills gap much worse,” said Wright.
A big majority of FDF members supported remaining within the EU, according to a recent survey of FDF members. The survey revealed that 70% of members wanted to retain EU membership, while only 13% of business leaders wanted to leave the union.
The remaining 17% of respondents chose not to express a business view on membership either way.
“The EU is absolutely rubbish at putting its own case. But that does not mean we should leave.”
- Ian Wright, FDF
But Wright acknowledged some food manufacturing business had a strong business case to oppose EU membership. As an example, he cited Tate and Lyle, which had suffered from “the EU’s massively discriminatory sugar quotas”.
Meanwhile, food industry executives were outspoken on the benefits of EU membership at Food Manufacture Group’s Business Leaders’ Forum in January. Greencore ceo Patrick Coveney and Wyke Farms md Richard Clothier, along with other business leaders, said Brexit would threaten their manufacturing operations.
The benefits of EU membership was one of the topics discussed yesterday (April 19) in a panel discussion – Ask the industry – hosted by TV business broadcaster Steph McGovern.
Foodex took place at the National Exhibition Centre, near Birmingham between April 18 and April 20.
Watch out for full multi-media reports from Food Manufacture’s three Big Video Debates – on campylobacter, crime and apprenticeships – staged at the show.