Government ‘withholds’ Brexit food price estimates

By Matt Atherton contact

- Last updated on GMT

Government withheld its Brexit food price rise estimates, the Unite union claimed
Government withheld its Brexit food price rise estimates, the Unite union claimed

Related tags: Government

The government is withholding information on how Brexit will affect food prices – raising fears of sharp rises and shortages – claims the Unite union.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) withheld its estimates for food price rises in the run up to Brexit, and the first five years after the UK leaves the EU in April 2019, the union claimed.

Price rises would have “massive implications”​ for both consumers and workers in the food sector, according to Unite.

Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture Julia Long said: “If the government knows that Brexit is going to affect food prices, then they need to tell the general public and not pretend that there isn’t a problem.

‘Pretend there isn’t a problem’

“The type of Brexit that the UK chooses will clearly have major implications on the nation’s shopping basket and we need to know what those factors will be.”

The union asked the government in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request: ‘What assessment or estimate has been made of the increase in food prices in the run up to the UK leaving the EU and the first five years after the UK’s departure?’

DEFRA said the information was being withheld, as it related to formulation and development of government policy. It recognised that there was a public interest in food price rises, but there was a strong public interest in withholding the information too, it said.

The union claimed it was told by DEFRA: “At this early stage of the policy process, where the UK is formulating its negotiating position with the EU, a public authority needs a safe space to formulate policy effectively and to ensure the information it is preparing is timely and accurate.

‘Seriously mislead the public’

“DEFRA’s EU exit policy development work is ongoing. We consider that premature disclosure of information could seriously mislead the public and is not in the public interest.”

The union is challenging DEFRA’s decision to withhold the information. It will appeal further to the Information Commissioner’s Office, if DEFRA’s internal review is rejected.

Long said: “The government is pulling the wool over the eyes of the public yet again. What are they hiding?

“Unite will do everything it can to ensure that this report is published and will hope that other individuals and organisations with similar concerns will also apply pressure for this information to see the light of day.”

No-one at DEFRA was available to comment on the union’s claims.

DEFRA’s response to Unite’s FOI request on food price rise estimates

  • “The information requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemption in section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act, which relates to the formulation and development of government policy. In applying this exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of information concerning the increase in food prices in the run up to the UK leaving the EU and the first five years after the UK’s departure. However, there is a strong public interest in withholding the information, in this instance. At this early stage of the policy process, where the UK is formulating its negotiating position with the EU, a public authority needs a safe space to formulate policy effectively and to ensure the information it is preparing is timely and accurate. DEFRA’s EU Exit policy development work is ongoing. We consider that premature disclosure of information could seriously mislead the public and is not in the public interest. In the meantime, however, DEFRA will continue to monitor food prices. Therefore, we have concluded that, in all the circumstances of the case, the information should be withheld.”

Related topics: Regulation, Brexit Debate

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