More than 30 food industry bodies have told Michael Gove they will stop assisting on government consultations, including plans to curb plastic use, until the threat of a no-deal Brexit is resolved.
A strongly worded letter to environment minister, with signatories including Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality and Ian Wright CBE of the Food and Drink Federation, said that the industry is unable to deal with the workload of government business while also planning for the “catastrophic impact” of a no-deal Brexit.
It comes as the 29 March deadline for the UK’s membership of the EU draws closer. While going ahead without a deal is not formally government policy, it will be the legal default if an agreement is not brokered between Brussels and Westminster in the next month and a half.
The risks include damage to the supply chain which, according to government emergency planning, could create food shortages, surging prices and delays to goods crossing the border. The letter to Mr Gove, seen by The Caterer, notes that “at present, a no-deal Brexit looks ever more the likeliest outcome”.
It adds: “Businesses throughout the UK food chain – and their trade associations – are now totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit. Large amounts of time, money, people and effort are being diverted to that end.
“At this moment of potential crisis for our industry, it cannot be ‘business as usual’ within government. Neither we nor our members have the physical resources nor organisational bandwidth to engage with and properly respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives at this time. Government has recruited many extra staff; we cannot.”
It adds that if the government decides to push ahead with proposed consultations it would “be seen by some as a sign of bad faith”, adding that “many organisations may decline to respond”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: “Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority, and we are meeting weekly with representatives from our food and drink industry to help prepare for all scenarios.
“While we have intensified our no deal planning, we are continuing to tackle other priority issues that matter to people, including our plans to reduce plastic waste and deliver a green Brexit.”