The food and farming industry calls for assurances from the government that it will still be able to recruit enough staff from the EU after Brexit, according to new manifesto.
A manifesto drawn up by more than 100 organisations across the industry and sent to the prime minister, warns that Brexit presents an unprecedented challenge to the affordability, availability, and choice of food for UK consumers.
Reportedly, the UK’s food and drink supply chain is highly diverse, supporting more than one in ten jobs and contributing £112bn to the UK economy.
All of the businesses in the food and drink industries will be deeply affected when the UK’s membership of the European Union ceases.
Many currently rely on a high proportion of non-UK permanent and seasonal labour sourced from within the EU.
Many businesses are part of highly sophisticated and integrated supply chains that rely on the free flow of goods between the UK and other EU member states, free of tariffs, veterinary and customs check.
The manifesto states that the effect of the decision to leave the EU is already being felt in the sector as uncertainty and lack of clarity impacts business confidence.
The UK food supply sector has established a common view of the objectives the UK government should pursue as it negotiates the UK’s withdrawal, establishes its future relationship with the EU, and puts in place domestic policies.
The manifesto urgently calls on the government:
- To maintain free and frictionless trade with our major trading partner, the EU, and secure the benefits of existing EU preferential trade arrangements, at least until government can replace them with acceptable alternative arrangements.
- To ensure ongoing access to an adequate supply of permanent and seasonal labour.
- To continue to promote food production through agricultural policy alongside our existing high environmental, health and animal welfare standards.
- To ensure businesses operate under an efficient and proportionate regulatory system that is centred on scientific evaluation and that incentivises innovation and competitiveness.
The manifesto underlines that future UK trade policy should reflect both the UK’s potential for growth in food exports, as well as the role of food sourced from outside the UK in expanding consumer choice and value.
Furthermore, it says that UK traders must be able to secure the benefits of existing EU preferential trade agreements, and government must secure an agreement that retains the UK’s current status amongst the EU’s existing preferential international trading partners during the transition period and beyond as a prerequisite for a broader UK trade policy which realises the opportunities from other potential trade deals with the rest of the world.
The manifesto demands, that the UK government should develop a comprehensive architecture for the management of future trade agreement negotiations, ensuring stakeholders’ interests are fully considered and consulted upon.
Moreover, it says that it is a matter of priority for the government to be properly resourced, equipped and upskilled in order to be able to conduct technical and complex negotiations and the implementation of trade arrangements with trading partners across the world.
Government policy should seek to maintain the permanent labour on which some sectors rely. In relation to the existing workforce, a simple, low-cost registration system to provide settled status for current EU workers must be established quickly, and a registration system for workers who arrive during transition must be ready before transition begins.
Government policy should also, as a matter of urgency, address the significant shortages in seasonal labour that already exists in some sectors of the food supply chain, including the introduction of a new scheme which allows access for seasonal workers.
According to the manifesto, government must ensure that after Brexit regulations are properly designed and implemented to achieve policy aims while allowing the food industry to continue to do what it does best – provide a safe and affordable supply of British food to the UK and the world.
The manifesto demands that in the future UK regulations do not diverge from those of our key trading partners in a way that makes frictionless trade impossible or reduces the competitiveness of the UK food supply sector.
Furthermore, the text states that UK should continue to actively engage with those international organisations that are responsible for setting international standards.
Nevertheless, industry and government, the manifesto suggests, should work together to identify those areas of regulation that can be reformed without jeopardising our objectives on trade and that respect the high standards the British public expect of the food they consume.