By Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council
We entered the month of August with a new Prime Minister, Mr Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, or simply, Boris. After making it through the initial rounds of voting by parliamentary colleagues, the choice was put before Conservative Party grassroots members. Boris Johnson comfortably beat rival Jeremy Hunt by a margin of 2 to 1, with around 90% of those able to vote having taken part. His leadership begun with series of Government resignations, with top jobs in his new Cabinet largely going to Brexiteers, except for Sajid Javid as Chancellor, while he campaigned for Remain in the referendum and according to him, he did so reluctantly, and has never hidden his eurosceptism in the past. Of most importance for the industry and the issues we face – Theresa Villiers, and Liz Truss have taken Michael Gove and Liam Fox’s spots at Defra and DIT respectively.
The Prime Minister will find himself facing the same obstacle his predecessor faced. The Government does not have a majority in the Commons (DUP aside). The backstop and a potential hard border between Northern Ireland and the ROI, that contributed to Theresa May’s downfall, remain. The new and first ever female President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen has already said the divorce deal negotiated was “a good one”. Whether or not the former German Defence Minister, and close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, will be open to discussing a revised agreement, time will tell. The Prime Minister will find it very difficult to pass an agreement in the Commons without significant changes to the backstop – or removing it altogether, unless he can bring a significant number of Labour MPs on board.
Despite the calls for unity among Conservative MPs, there is still a split between those who welcome their new leader with open arms and those who remain stunned with disbelief and concern. While one wing of the Conservatives will expect the Prime Minister to take an unrelenting line with Brussels, and to ratchet up the no-deal Brexit threats, the other will be extremely nervous over whether he is serious. MPs voted to stop the Prime Minister from being able to suspend Parliament, by amending the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation Bill), which blocks the suspension of Parliament between the 9 October and 18 December 2019 – the UK is set to leave the EU on 31 October. Changes to the Bill will require weekly debates on restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland, effectively preventing prorogation of parliament. The Government has not ruled out this method, however.
The Prime Minister said, when he took office, that he wanted to do a new and better deal with the EU, but common sense is that the country should prepare for no-deal. However, if no-deal Brexit is the outcome there will be no transition period, which is why our industry must continue preparing for the worst now. The UK would revert to World Trade Organisation rules on trade, face EU external tariffs and the price of many imported goods would rise as a result.
Despite us having provided detailed evidence to government as to why import tariffs should be maintained on eggs and egg products, in March the government still went ahead and set this to zero in the event of a no deal Brexit. However, our further lobbying has certainly grabbed attention in Whitehall and Parliament. The BEIC will continue to meet with Ministers and MPs from all political parties, to fight for our industry and make the case for the Government to review the decision not to include egg and egg products in the tariff schedule.