The food and drink sector was at the heart of the debate about Britain’s EU membership, Truss told the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF’s) President’s Dinner on Monday (May 16) at the Hilton hotel, Park Lane.
“The decision on June 23 will have a bigger impact on food and drink than any other part of the economy,” said Truss.
‘Get the message across in your companies’
“It is important to get the message across in your companies to people in the food chain,” she told her audience. “Get the message across about how difficult it will be [for food and drink manufacturers to do business with Europe, after a vote to quit the EU].
Truss acknowledged that the single market was not “a sexy and exciting thing” to explain to voters. But access to 500M EU consumers had helped to deliver rising exports of food and drink exports over past 40 years.
A decision to quit the EU would be to remove all the benefits to British business currently provided by the single market. “I think it’s in all of our interests to communicate the real impact on the ground, the real impact this would have on jobs, on livelihoods.
“What we know is less trade would mean fewer investments. It would mean fewer jobs and that would feed through to people’s incomes.”
At present, British companies share the same legislation on food safety and animal health and welfare, with European partners, Truss continued. “But if we left the EU, producers would face additional costs in delivering products to EU markets.”
France recently reopened its market to British beef but only have a long campaign by the British government, said the minister.
‘We had to fight hard’
“We had to fight hard in the European Court of Justice to get British beef back onto the market in France.”
A decision to quit the EU would also brake the success of UK food and drink exports to the US. Truss said during a recent visit to Washington, officials had to fill out a 1,000-page form, which was stage one of an eight-stage process, to get British lamb back into the US market.
Leaving the EU would make that process even more difficult, Truss claimed.
FDF director-general Ian Wright last month urged food and drink leaders who supported Britain’s continued EU membership “to grow a pair” and speak up. He delivered the advice at a Foodex debate chaired by BBC business broadcaster Steph McGovern.
Don’t miss FoodManufacture.co.uk’s exclusive video interview with McGovern on what business leaders are telling her about the EU Referendum campaign.
Meanwhile, last week two former Conservative food ministers clashed in a debate over the merits of EU membership.
CBI encourages businesses to speak out on EU referendum
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has also urged businesses to speak to their employees about the EU referendum, providing them with information, whichever side of the debate they are on.
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said today (May 17): “Responsible business leaders should give their employees the choice to hear what impact a Brexit would have on company growth, their jobs and their local community.
“This is not about telling people how to vote but having calm, evidence-based conversations, whichever camp the business is in, or if they are neutral. And there are many different ways of engaging – whether it’s holding a ‘town hall’ style debate, setting up an internal information hub, or asking employees what questions they want answers to.”
Many employers, such as Airbus, BMW and John Lewis, were already talking to their employees about the implications of the referendum, added Fairburn.