During the transition, EU migrants would be able to work in the UK, but must register with the authorities, and the UK would continue to contribute to the EU budget, according to the prime minister’s keynote speech, delivered in Florence, Italy on Friday (September 22).
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) praised the prime minister’s plan to speed progress in the Brexit negotiations. FDF director general Ian Wright said: “The clock is ticking and businesses need time to plan and prepare. The intention to negotiate an implementation phase based on our current arrangements with the EU27 is a welcome step in helping businesses manage the ongoing uncertainty.”
Food and drink manufacturers faced difficult investment decisions and there was much work to be done in a short space of time. The onus was on the government and the EU to demonstrate concrete progress by the time of the October European Council to reassure business and consumers, said Wright.
‘We must have this transition period’
“If we are to feed the country in the way UK consumers have come to expect and enjoy, we must have this transition period which minimises any disruption and requires only one point of change.
“Transition must include continued access to our valued EU workforce, a stable regulatory regime, frictionless customs and trade, and a practical solution to Irish border issues.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) said a transitional period after the UK leaves the EU will provide important stability but farmers needed more details of transitional arrangements if they were to have the certainty to plan and invest in their businesses.
EU free trade deal?
“With over 70% of our exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks being sent to EU markets, the NFU has been making the strongest case for a comprehensive free-trade agreement between the EU and UK.”
- Meurig Raymond
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “Farmers and growers are becoming increasingly alarmed at the prospect of a ‘no deal’ departure from the EU. The resulting disruption to trade, access to labour and business stability would pose a fundamental threat to the viability of many of their businesses.”
At least two years will be needed to ensure a smooth Brexit, while also agreeing a future relationship between the EU and UK which recognises their mutual importance in terms of trade, said Raymond.
“With over 70% of our exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks being sent to EU markets, the NFU has been making the strongest case for a comprehensive free-trade agreement between the EU and UK.
“We were pleased to hear the prime minister say there is no intention to impose tariffs where none currently exist, which the NFU takes as a strong commitment to securing a free-trade deal with the EU.”
‘Vague pledges and offers are not enough’
But industry needed urgently more detail on how the immigration system would work both during and after the transition. “Vague pledges and offers are not enough if potential workers are to be reassured that they can legally take up the jobs on offer,” said Raymond.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds also welcomed the prime minister’s pledge to work towards a transition period that retained current single market arrangements and assurances about the ability of EU migrants to work in the UK.
“Our EU employees form a hugely valuable part of our workforce in the beer and pub sector, and a registration system that is quick and easy to complete online is important and welcome,” said Simmonds.
What others said about the PM’s Florence speech
Dairy UK, chief executive, Dr Judith Bryans
“It is of upmost importance that the dairy sector can trade with confidence and certainty. The EU is our biggest export market, and so it is vital we can continue to trade tariff-free and maintain a close and positive relationship whilst negotiations continue and beyond.
“We welcome a transition period as this would provide stability. However, we also believe it is important that both the UK and EU take steps to address ongoing concerns over access to skilled and unskilled EU labour and subsidies for UK farmers once this period ends. These represent key areas of concern for the UK dairy industry.”
Confederation of British Industry (CBI), director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn
“Firms will welcome the proposal of a ‘status quo’ transition period for business that averts a cliff-edge exit. This mirrors exactly the CBI’s proposal made nearly 80 days ago and, if agreed by the EU, will protect jobs and investment on both sides of the Channel.
“Millions of EU workers and their families in the UK need certainty and vice versa. By committing to enshrine their EU rights into UK law goes some way to doing that but until agreement is reached, individuals will still not be clear what their future holds.
“Negotiators must now move the talks on to trade and transition as soon as possible. More tough choices and compromises await and listening to firms will help ensure agreement on a comprehensive version of what our future economic relationship with the EU will look like.”