UK Snap Election Adds More Uncertainty for Food Industry

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19 Apr 2017 --- As British MPs prepare to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for a June 8 general election later today, the food and farming industries are urging the UK government to support the sectors which are vital to the UK economy. May’s snap call for a general election is due to be backed by MPs this afternoon, so the UK government can make a success of Brexit and focus on negotiating the best deals as the country exits the European Union. 

But the sudden general election call has done nothing to allay the widespread food and agriculture industry concerns surrounding Brexit negotiations and how leaving the EU will affect farmers, imports, exports, jobs, tariffs, border controls, food prices, regulations and so on.

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers’ Union have both issued statements responding to the general election call and reiterating their stance on how important both sectors are for Britain.

NFU President Meurig Raymond wants clarity as soon as possible because there have been concerns about the future of British farming and the food and drink industries in general for almost one year.

Time and again, industry leaders have called for a clearer idea of what Brexit might mean and how food sectors will be impacted – but still there is no clarity. 

Yesterday, as May suddenly announced she would be calling for a general election because she wants to secure the backing of the UK population for Brexit negotiations, Raymond stressed the NFU’s stance.

“With farming arguably the sector most impacted by Brexit, NFU members will want to understand how each of the political parties plans to support profitable, productive and progressive agriculture and horticulture in the future. The right post-Brexit trade deal is absolutely critical but equally so is a new wider policy framework that better delivers for farming and the nation,” he said.

“Throughout the next seven weeks the NFU will ensure that all parties fully understand and engage with the food and farming community on the issues facing the sector both now and post-Brexit.”

“British farms currently grow the raw ingredients for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector worth £108 billion and moreover the public want to continue to buy British food. For that to happen it’s vital that candidates recognize the enormous contribution that agriculture makes – for every £1 invested, farming delivers £7.40 back to this country – and to back British farming.”

Responding to the sudden call for a general election, director general at the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, said: “Alongside national security, any Government's primary duty is to ensure that the nation has access to safe, affordable and nutritious food and drink so our country can continue to prosper. 

Over the next six weeks all those who aspire to form the next Government have a duty to spell out in very clear terms their vision for the nation's food and farming policy for the post Brexit generation.”

“We look forward to a proper public debate on those ideas. As the voice of the UK's food and drink manufacturers, FDF is ready to play its part. We will work with the new Government and with our friends in farming, food retailing, and the out of home sector to ensure that outside the EU the United Kingdom has the vibrant and diverse food industry which UK consumers expect and deserve.”

“Part of this process will involve creating an industrial strategy partnership that supports growth and productivity in our sector, ensuring we retain our world-class reputation and competitive advantage internationally.”

It had been thought the next general election in Britain would not be until 2020, however the Fixed Term Parliaments Act allows for one to be held earlier if two-thirds of MPs support the move which is viewed by some as a U-turn from May who has previously claimed there would not be an early general election. 

However, a motion will be put before the House of Commons later this afternoon (Apr 19), which has also been welcomed by opposition parties, Labour and Liberal Democrats. 

"What I hope comes out of the election is support from the public to say we agree with their plan for Brexit, so that when I go into Europe I've got that backing of the British people," says May, who became PM following David Cameron’s resignation in July last year after the British public voted to come out of Europe during a referendum vote. 

She also said that if a general election were to be left until 2020, it could get in the way of Brexit negotiations because the deadline for the arduous talks is March 2019.

"If we're negotiating at a point that is quite close to a general election, I think the Europeans might have seen that as a time of weakness when they could push us. Now we will be much freer,” she adds.

The last general election in the UK was in May, 2015. 

Meanwhile, Sustain, the alliance for better food and agriculture practices, has stated that it expects party manifestos for the General Election to stipulate how parties intend to “use the UK’s new post-Brexit freedoms to take back control of our food, farming and fishing,” with possible commitments including the introduction of a Sustainable Fisheries Act, the development of UK commitments to improve child health (such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy), the expansion of domestic organic production, and improvements in food labeling to to help consumers make informed food choices.

By Gaynor Selby

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