In a guest blog for the BRC, Lord Teverson, the Chairman of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee outlines the committee's new report on the potential impacts of Brexit on the price and availability of food for UK consumers.
This week, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee published its report into the potential impact of Brexit on the price and availability of food for UK consumers.
The report is based on an excellent roundtable evidence session that the BRC attended, along with representatives from food manufacturing, distribution, farming and consumer organisations and academic experts. As Chair of the Sub-Committee, I have spent much of the last eighteen months hearing views on Brexit from individuals and groups across the energy and environment spectrum, but rarely have I heard such strong and compelling concerns. The contributors to the roundtable were united in their view that Brexit had the potential to have significant impact on the UK’s food supply, and united in their call for urgent Government action.
Thirty per cent of the food we eat in the UK comes from the EU, and membership of the customs union means it can be imported with no tariffs or customs barriers. As it stands today, we are 10 months away from leaving the EU and have no idea what our trading relationship will be like post-Brexit. Will the Government manage to negotiate an agreement that allows for tariff-free imports to continue, and that recognises common standards to a degree sufficient to allow for minimal customs paperwork and border checks? I hope so. If not, will we see tariffs based on the current EU World Trade Organisation Schedule (which would mean an average 22% tariff on food imports)? Or would the UK Government decide to reduce or remove tariffs on all imports (and what implications would that increase in ‘cheap imports’ have on domestic production)? Will UK ports and airports start having to treat EU food imports in the same way as they treat food imports from other parts of the world? If so, can we really develop the IT systems and physical infrastructure required, and employ enough staff, in the time available, or will we experience ‘Operation Stack’ style tailbacks and food rotting in containers before it can reach the shops? Or will we simply not check EU food imports and take their standards on trust (and what implications does that have for the UK’s biosecurity and food safety)?
These are the questions that the food industry (and politicians) are seeking clarity on from Government. Businesses can probably adapt to most situations, if given enough time to prepare, but the multitude of potential scenarios that could be in play this time next year make investment decisions or agreeing new contracts impossibly challenging. Our report urges the Government to respond to industry’s concerns, and I hope they will take note.
Lord Teverson is a Liberal Democrat peer and Chairman of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee.
Click here for more information on the BRC's Fair Brexit For Consumers campaign.