Food industry’s cautious welcome to PM’s Brexit speech

By Matt Atherton contact

- Last updated on GMT

The food industry was cautiously optimistic after Theresa May gave assurances about the right of non-UK EU workers to continue working in the UK
The food industry was cautiously optimistic after Theresa May gave assurances about the right of non-UK EU workers to continue working in the UK

Related tags: Prime minister, International trade

Food industry organisations have cautiously welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May’s assurances about the right of non-UK EU workers to continue working in the UK after Brexit, in a keynote speech delivered yesterday (January 17).

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said the industry needed access to skilled workers. It said it looked forward to understanding how the prime minister’s proposals impact food organisations’ future access to EU workers.

FDF director general Ian Wright said: “We understand the prime minister’s wish to control immigration and attract the brightest and best global talent.

“Our industry also needs access to workers with a range of skills – some not widely available in the UK – so we welcome the assurances for current EU workers.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said it welcomed May’s “acknowledgement that access to a reliable workforce from overseas is vital for many British industries”​.

‘Vital for many British industries’

“We look forward to that acknowledgement being turned into a commitment which is then acted on,”​ an NFU statement said.

EU workers were part of the reason that British retailers are often able to deliver affordable and high-quality goods, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The government is right to signal reassurance to EU workers throughout our UK supply chains about their right to remain here.The prime minister has an ambitious plan with the right priorities.”

Meanwhile, the FDF said it was encouraged by May’s ambition to adopt a phased approach to Brexit, after she revealed that the UK would not remain a member of the EU’s Single Market​. Wright said it gave businesses time to prepare for the transition, as opposed to “a potentially fatal jump from the cliff edge”​.

‘Much needed clarity’

“We welcome the fact that the prime minister has provided some much needed additional clarity on her government's approach to plans for the UK's EU exit.”​ said Wright.

“We ​[also] welcome the prime minister’s commitment to securing the freest and simplest possible trade arrangements with the EU.”

But, EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, called on government to work quickly in developing a new trade agreement with the EU. The government must build a clear and far-reaching strategy to seize the many expected opportunities the prime minister believes will arise post-Brexit, it said.

EEF ceo Terry Scuoler said: “As part of that process ministers must listen to businesses and support them in building viable bridges to carry the economy through a carefully managed and orderly transition.”

Food industry reacts to Theresa May’s Brexit plans

  • FDF​ director general Ian Wright: “We welcome the fact that the prime minister has provided some much needed additional clarity on her government’s approach to plans for the UK’s EU exit. We welcome the prime minister’s commitment to securing the freest and simplest possible trade arrangements with the EU. We are also encouraged that the PM hopes to adopt a phased approach to Brexit which offers businesses time to prepare and plan as opposed to a potentially fatal jump from the cliff edge. We understand the prime minister’s wish to control immigration and attract the brightest and best global talent. Finally, we continue to urge the government to ensure that any proposed changes to food and drink regulation as between the UK and EU – and across the devolved administrations of the UK – are identified well in advance and are subject to detailed consultation with industry to maintain consumer confidence in the UK’s world-leading food industry.”
  • NFU​: “Following the prime minister’s speech, NFU Council re-iterated four principles which British food production needs in a post-Brexit Britain: The best possible access to trade with Europe; Access to a competent and reliable workforce; The government to give commitment that agriculture is a key industry for Britain and a post-Brexit Britain will allow farmers to be profitable, productive and realise the potential of British food production; That any changes to trading relationships or the agricultural policy affecting farmers should be subject to a period of transition to allow farming businesses to adapt to any new environment. We welcome the prime minister’s acknowledgement that access to a reliable workforce from overseas is vital for many British industries. NFU Council still has legitimate and important concerns. We hope the prime minister’s ambition can be achieved, but as we know these kind of deals normally take years to conclude and do not cover all products.  If a quick and comprehensive deal cannot be achieved it would be absolutely vital that there are appropriate phased arrangements to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge to allow Britain’s farmers to adapt.”
  • EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation​, ceo Terry Scuoler: “The government must now work tirelessly to deliver a comprehensive new trade and customs agreement with the EU. In order for the government to lay the foundations of a globally competitive Britain, it must bring forward a clear and far-reaching industrial strategy that will enable businesses to seize the many expected opportunities the prime minister believes will arise after we leave the EU. In the end it’s the detail of the final agreement that will matter and it is important that this will be open to parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament and business will want to see a very clear, evidence-based plan to ensure the UK economy avoids collateral damage arising from our departure.”
  • British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA)​ chief executive Brigid Simmonds: “It will come as relief to many working in our industry that, in leaving the EU, Britain will look to ensure that those already working in the UK have the right to remain here. It is important that British firms, particularly in the beer and pub sector, can continue to seek international talent for soft skills shortages, including non-graduates, in the UK, and we await further details of how any new work permit system might work. British brewing is respected and admired the world over, and as new agreements with Europe and the rest of the world are developed, we will be urging the government to ensure that we can export on a competitive footing and trade as freely as possible.”
  • BRC​ chief executive Helen Dickinson: “It is crucial that Britain gets a new deal that works for ordinary British consumers, which doesn’t hit them with the costs of new import tariffs at a time when the pound is already weakened. The government has an opportunity to secure a win-win deal that works for the UK economy, by keeping prices down for consumers, while allowing the EU to continue benefiting from its open-trade relationship with the UK. The number one priority for an orderly exit should be to allow all goods traded between the EU and the UK to be in free circulation.”
  • CBI​ director general Carolyn Fairbairn: “Today the prime minister changed the landscape. Ruling out membership of the Single Market has reduced options for maintaining a barrier-free trading relationship between the UK and the EU. But businesses will welcome the greater clarity and the ambition to create a more prosperous, open and global Britain, with the freest possible trade between the UK and the EU. The pressure is now on to deliver these objectives and achieve a smooth and orderly exit. Businesses want to make a success of Brexit but will be concerned about falling back on damaging WTO ​[World Trade Organisation] rules. They stand ready to support the negotiations to get the best possible deal for the UK by ensuring that the economic case is heard loud and clear.”
  • Freight Transport Association ​[FTA]:“FTA welcomes ​[the prime minister’s] commitment to ‘tariff-free and frictionless trade’ with the EU and to ambitious free trade agreements with other partners globally. Her statement allows FTA to identify where the new ‘friction points’ in international trade could occur and work with the government to negotiate the best possible outcome for UK businesses. The UK road transport industry is also highly reliant on EU nationals who work as drivers, warehouse operatives and in other key roles across the sector. The continued ability of FTA members to employ and recruit these key workers will be essential to their future business success and FTA will be seeking assurances that the government recognises and accommodates the essential needs of the logistics sector. A truly global Britain, trading effectively with all nations, is something FTA welcomes, and the Association urges the government to progress bold and ambitious free trade agreements with key trading partners around the world as quickly as possible to ensure seamless business relationships can continue.  

Related topics: People & Skills, Legal

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