Speaking after Gove responded to a letter from 32 business groups pressing to stretch out Government consultations to accommodate Brexit planning, Food & Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said: “We would like them [Government] to have paused all non-Brexit legislation-related consultations.
“I understand that is difficult for them and, to some degree, any relief we can get is welcome. I think the commitment is helpful. The language is constructive. The agreement to move to 12-week consultation, so that nothing ends before the middle of May is very welcome. That is something I suggested to him in a one-to-one with him. He agreed straight away.
“What we now need him to do is to extend that to other departments. We take the commitment at face value and we think it’s constructive.”
There were two main reasons for putting consultation deadlines back, said Wright. “One is the concern that we think we haven’t got the resources to respond properly. When you’re dealing with hundreds of calls about every possible aspect of Brexit, you have to deploy people on it.
‘Massive economic shock’
“The other point is we have no clue what kind of economy these consultations will find when they land and, if it is the massive economic shock that I think it will be, there is very little point consulting on any of this, because none of it’s going to happen.”
He said it was important to free the industry up to deal with highly varied contingencies. “No one can really predict much more than five or six weeks. Not even the biggest players that I talk to really believe their plans are solid beyond five weeks.
“If, at the beginning of May, major manufacturers have massive problems because they simply can’t get particularly key ingredients in and out and they have had to stop making well-known household brands, I genuinely think we’ll have to go back to all of Government and say: ‘we cannot deal with this and whatever else is going on’.”
Wright said he was reassured by Gove’s grasp of the food industry’s issues as it approaches Brexit. “I’m pretty confident in Gove. I think he understands very well some of the complications of these matters.”
A letter from 31 food industry trade organisations and the National Farmers’ Union was send to Gove last week, asking him to freeze consultations involving the sector. Gove’s response emerged on 18 February.
Food Manufacture understands Gove has promised to pause the consultation on chemicals and pesticides strategies and has undertaken not to launch a consultation on environmental targets before Parliament’s summer recess.
He has shifted the end of the three consultations on the Resources and Waste Strategy from April to May. Gove has also approached his colleagues to explore extending deadlines for consultations involving departments other than DEFRA. Continuing consultations include a review of retail promotions of ‘unhealthy’ foods, especially those targeting children.