Responding to the Government’s confirmation of a delay of at least three weeks to the agreed Brexit deadline of 29 March, Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said: “Without a resolution the crisis is simply postponed until 12 April 2019. Those three weeks represent an almost meaningless extension in light of the 18 months that have already gone into preparations for EU Exit.
“It is time for the politicians to get their act together and either pass the Prime Minister’s deal or chart a different course to bring the nation together and end the uncertainty. And they should do it today.”
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “The shambles continues and the cost to industry and the country continues to rise whilst politicians continue to play their games.
“With one week to go until the UK had planned legislatively to exit the EU, it is unbelievable that the Northern Ireland beef and sheep meat industry is no more certain with regards to the terms of the future relationship it is likely to have with its largest export partners in the EU than it was on June 23, 2016."
Ian Stevenson, chief executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland, said: “Currently in Northern Ireland, producers and processors are dealing with a number of challenges including weaker market conditions, higher costs of many inputs and concerns about the impact that additional nitrates and ammonia requirements may have. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has only served to exacerbate these already existing challenges and has put our processors and producers under an intense amount of mental stress. Clarity is urgently required so that appropriate plans can be put in place to ensure a strong future post-Brexit for our beef and sheep meat industry.
“Last night’s decisions to delay the UK’s exit from the EU will hopefully strengthen resolve on both sides to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit. It is imperative that agreement and clarity is reached as soon as possible on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
“Leaving the EU without a deal is totally unacceptable to our industry and the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal needs to be consigned permanently to the dustbin where it belongs.”
“The uncertainty is starting to play havoc in the supply chain. Clearly politicians have little understanding of how industry works otherwise they would have settled all this in a timely fashion and given everyone the chance to prepare for whatever decision they make.”
Adam Johnson, director, Tudor International Freight, told Food Manufacture: “Our food manufacturer customers trading with the EU will welcome the extension to the Article 50 period agreed at the EU heads of government summit in Brussels. This deadline deferral provides more scope for an orderly alternative arrangement to the current draft withdrawal deal - which seems likely to be laid to rest after being rejected by the Commons for a third time next week - to be put in place. It also means our customers will continue to enjoy the significant trading advantages of customs union and single market membership for at least a little while longer.
“Another significant benefit of the extended deadline is that it effectively removes the danger of a calamitous no-deal Brexit occurring this month. Our view is that a cliff-edge departure - despite the government’s recent proposal that imports of foods such as oranges, onions and peas should be tariff-free in these circumstances - would be the worst potential outcome for the industry’s businesses, given the costs, delays and other problems it would bring, and therefore must be avoided, if at all possible."
The EU Council of Ministers has agreed that the deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU should be postponed until 12 April if parliament votes against Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal. However, if May’s deal is approved, that deadline will be pushed back to 22 May.
'Reckless and Irresponsible'
A spokesman for the Food Storage & Distribution Federation said: “The uncertainty our politicians are expecting businesses to operate within is reckless and irresponsible - no one on any side of this is blameless in letting it get to this point.
“The food supply chain is prepared as it can be. Contingency plans have been activated and I am confident that they will be effective, even through a period of short delay. However delays are costly, especially if it leads to periods of effective standstill on settling whether we exit with no deal or not.
“If there is a longer delay, we may see things returning to relative normal for a period, before the whole cycle we have been through begins again.”
Addressing the plight of farmers, National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said: “NFU President Minette Batters said: “While we are relieved that it appears farm businesses will be spared the worst of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March, it is clear that last night’s agreement on delaying Article 50 merely delays, rather than eliminates, the possibility of leaving without a deal.
‘Seize this opportunity’
“The Prime Minister and parliament have been given a brief window to find a way to ensure we leave the EU in an orderly fashion at the end of May. We urge them to seize this opportunity without hesitation, and to identify the concessions they will all need to accommodate to finally take no-deal off the table.
“… While this extension provides a short respite, it would be unforgiveable and grossly irresponsible for Government and Parliament to leave us in the same, damaging situation we have experienced in recent days. A no-deal exit from the EU would be disastrous for British farming and food production and should be avoided at all costs.”
John Perry, managing director of supply chain consultancy SCALA, said: “With the EU leaders now granting May a so-called ‘flex-tension’, we have potentially edged one step closer to a no-deal Brexit. If her withdrawal agreement is voted down for a third time next week, as seems most likely, we face either crashing out of the EU with no deal on the 12th of April, or securing a longer extension by agreeing to participate in the European elections in May.
Delaying until summer
“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.”
Meanwhile, the meat industry has called on the Government to protect UK food quality post-Brexit.