Food and farming industry bodies have welcomed the delay to Brexit – but warned that farmers still face ongoing uncertainty.
Prime Minister Theresa May this week agreed with EU leaders an extension to Britain’s departure date – due to be 12 April – until 31 October, removing the imminent threat of a no-deal Brexit that could have caused huge damage to the food production sector.
NFU president Minette Batters said the delay was “welcome news” for Britain’s farmers, but warned that producers are still left without any certainty about the longer-term future. “This uncertainty is having real-world business impacts right now, with investment being put on hold and essential jobs remaining unfilled,” she said. “We have crops and livestock in fields with farmers and growers still in the dark about what trading environment they will be operating in, whether they will have access to a sufficient workforce to carry out essential roles this season, or what the UK’s future domestic agricultural policy will look like.”
Batters repeated her call for Parliament to ensure an orderly departure from the EU, adding that the UK must use the extension constructively to find a solution.
That view was echoed by Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food & Drink Federation. He said: “Food and drink manufacturers are mightily relieved that the immediate threat of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit has been lifted. The additional time must now be used wisely. Government and Parliament simply must give us a coherent plan to lead us out of our current mess. It must be a way forward that allows us to make progress in resolving the future of our relationship with the EU, taking full account of the needs of food and drink businesses.”
And Welsh farming representatives expressed relief that tariff barriers will not be immediately applied to Welsh food. “If we are to leave the European Union, then this must be done in an orderly fashion, and we must now see real progress towards a solution which commands majority support in Parliament,” said NFU Cymru president John Davies. “What we cannot have is another few months of going around in circles, otherwise we will simply end up facing another ‘No deal’ Brexit cliff edge this autumn.”