Following the news that the European Council had agreed a Brexit deadline of the end of 2020, FDF director general Ian Wright said: “The UK’s 7,000 food and drink manufacturers will welcome the certainty today’s agreement brings.
“As the first business group to call for the right to remain for EU citizens, it is great news that our 117,000 European workers and their families can have confidence about their future and that no manufacturer will face a cliff edge in recruiting and retaining talent.
“As the sector hardest hit by Brexit, a time-limited transition period has been at the top of FDF’s negotiation wish-list. We are very pleased that the agreement also protects manufacturers’ access to EU third-country trade deals, worth £2.3bn to our industry.”
However, he said a lot of hard work still had to be done to allow a smooth transition in terms of the food industry’s trade with the EU, at the same time as opening new export markets.
“70% of our trade is with the EU – every day raw materials and finished products travel seamlessly over the Channel and the Irish Sea. Until the appropriate technological solutions can be found for the island of Ireland, then it is right to leave the option of a regulatory backstop on the table.
“The timetable is ambitious and governments will need to get a move on to make sure businesses, systems and infrastructure are ready – in the UK and on the continent. We need a mechanism to openly assess readiness through the 21 months in consultation with sector representative groups, with the option to extend this period where necessary, depending how quickly the nature of our future trading relationship with the EU is confirmed.
“Rightly, UK consumers will not tolerate a lack of choice on the shelves as a result of disruption at ports or customs, therefore the food and drink supply chain must be prioritised during the negotiations.”
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “While we welcome a transition deal, long called for by industry to give manufacturers clarity and confidence for continued growth as the UK leaves the EU, the time period to the end of 2020 is short. There is still much to be done by both sides in these negotiations to ensure that the final arrangements can support jobs, investment and growth in the UK and EU.
“Manufacturers also welcome the fact that EU workers can continue to come to the UK under the same terms as before the Referendum until the end of the transitional period, providing much-needed skills for UK industry and the economy.
“The continuance of the current technical regulatory environment and trade and customs procedures is welcomed by Britain’s manufacturers, safeguarding their EU-wide supply chains, but there is little time now to pull the whole deal together in a way that works for everyone.”