National Farmers Union (NFU) president Minette Batters, NFU Wales president John Davies, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick and Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ivor Ferguson issued the following statement: “The outcome of the vote means there is no realistic possibility of achieving an orderly departure from the EU on 29 March.
“A no-deal exit from the EU would be a catastrophe for British farming and food production. Therefore, some sort of extension of the Article 50 deadline will be necessary. It is critical that the Government and MPs identify a clear strategy to secure parliament’s support for a negotiated Brexit deal between the UK and the EU and use any extension of Article 50 constructively. We cannot simply delay the prospect of a no-deal.
“This continued uncertainty is having real world consequences on farming businesses – and wider British industry – already. It is time for MPs to consider the concessions they will need to accommodate to support a deal that finally brings to an end the enormous and damaging uncertainty that is already undermining our food and farming sectors.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright pressed for MPs to opt to remove the possibility of a no-deal in the vote scheduled for today (13 March): “Tonight’s result is another body blow for the country and the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. As we teeter on the brink of the cliff edge, just 17 days’ away, confidence in our political leaders is almost gone.
“We can only hope that members of Parliament, tomorrow and on Thursday, will vote decisively – and act accordingly – to take a 29 March ‘no-deal’ exit off the table. We now need breathing space in which a clear way forward can be found.”
The National Pig Association’s (NPA’s) chief executive Zoe Davies echoed Wright’s concerns. “Last night’s vote simply prolongs the uncertainty. It has brought the threat of a damaging no-deal Brexit, if not at the end of March at some undisclosed point in the future, a step closer.
“This outcome would have potentially catastrophic consequences for the pig industry. For the good of the British pig sector, we must avoid a no-deal. We need cull sow export access. We need to be able to export our breeding animals and have sustainable access to medicines. We also need to ensure a sensible trade in Ireland and to avoid a volatile pound.
“We urge MPs to see sense and work together to find some sort of agreement that brings clarity and some form of continuity to sectors like ours. We cannot overstate the impact the uncertainty is having on the sector in terms of stifling investment and, above all, confidence. It is impossible to plan for the future when we don’t know what that future looks like.”
John Perry, managing director of supply chain and logistics consultancy SCALA, said that, given the Government seemed locked into either the Prime Minister’s deal or no-deal, last night’s vote had increased the threat of the latter.
He added: “Despite the second vote on whether to block a no-deal Brexit taking place later today, this will still be the default on 29 March unless May can manage to get the other EU member states to agree to an extension in time.
“An extension would undoubtedly be by far the best outcome now for British businesses. Delaying the deadline until at least the summer would give us the chance to come together to campaign for either a second referendum in which the options are properly laid out, or at the very least to stay in the customs union.
“However, even if we still face a no-deal Brexit following a delay, the additional few months would have given businesses an invaluable opportunity to prepare themselves as thoroughly as possible. An extension would allow businesses to look beyond stockpiling and put in place more effective, long-term risk-reduction strategies by undertaking a full assessment of their supply chains, protecting themselves against the uncertainty that lies ahead.”
Last night, MPs voted against the Prime Minister's proposed Brexit deal by 391 to 242, a majority of 149.