Industry remains in the dark as final Brexit date draws near

Another week, and major drama unfolds with the Brexit process that has become an increasingly unpredictable global spectacle.

The latest chapter in the two-and-a-half-year saga has seen House of Commons speaker John Bercow rule that the UK government cannot bring back the same vote for a third time in a row in the hope of overturning a historic defeat on the matter.

It has led to Secretary General Robert Buckland labelling the situation as a full-blown constitutional crisis, such is the unprecedented level of chaos now surrounding our expected departure from the EU.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the issue was high on the agenda of the International Food and Drink Event (IFE), with the matter forming one of the event’s ‘Big Debate’ sessions.

Among those on the panel was Ian Wright, chief executive of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, who underlined the major challenges faced by businesses across sectors with the prospect of leaving without a deal.

He noted that the uncertainty for many companies – which extends the confectionery and bakery segments of industry, had already cost them significantly in attempting to prepare for all eventualities.

Wright warned that should Brexit go ahead without a managed deal, then consumers face difficult choices ahead, with the reality being a reduced (and likely more expensive) range of products available on British shelves.

“Within the UK, we now have the lowest level of spending on food in Europe, at around 10% of income, but I can remember it being much higher at around 35% in the 1970s,” said the chief executive, who warned that under Brexit, manufacturers face price rises for importing ingredients and greater logistics barriers if the ‘just-in-time’ delivery chains are not maintain under present European legislation.

Fellow panel member Sandra Sullivan, a director of the Food and Drink Exporters Association, added that until the government provided clarity on what options for exiting the EU we are finally going to end up with, definitive advice to those in industry would not be possible.

According to some reports, the government may yet force a final attempt within the next week on a version of Theresa May’s twice rejected deal, with the clock rapidly ebbing away on our EU departure on March 29th.

The odds of this long-held target date now seem slim at best, with such major legislation requiring weeks of parliamentary time to enact, meaning a delay to the process seems increasingly inevitable, bringing yet more business uncertainty.

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