It’s fair to say that last month’s Brexit decision sent shock waves through the UK food industry, particularly as the majority of industry leaders had expressed the view via media relations activity that it would be more beneficial for the UK to stay in the EU with the bosses of Diagio, Unilever, Ocado and Asda among others signing a letter to The Times calling for just that.
As the markets went into freefall immediately following the decision, social media and the tabloids were awash with mass panic from the man on the street. However, the businesses and industry experts who have decided to comment on Brexit, have been careful in their media relations not to cause mass panic among the industry and have been able to offer a little more insight into the pros and cons of this decision.
We look at some of the hot topics circulating Brexit in the food industry right now and if Brexit really will have a financial impact on the UK.
One of the main concerns to come out of the food sector is the future of EU workers who currently make up a marked percentage of UK employees, contributing to the foodservice industry across manual, semi-skilled and managerial positions. British Growers Association were recently featured in the Grocer discussing how more than 60,000 seasonal workers are recruited yearly from the EU to assist with harvests. Jack Ward, the chief executive called on the government to “dispel any uncertainty and address whether there is still an opportunity to work with the EU to fulfil these roles.”
While employment will be a key topic in upcoming negotiations, worker conditions are also at the forefront of employer’s minds with a shocking 57% increase in online reports of hate crime since the referendum. Commentators have discussed how important it is for employers to keep to legislation to provide equal rights for all and make sure the UK remains an attractive place to work. Cheryl Bennett, director of HR & training, advises employers to take pre-emptive action to “create a working environment free from discrimination.”
In terms of trade, many companies have expressed concern about the damage Brexit will have on our relationship with the rest of Europe and what impact this could have. David Young, head of food and beverages at Eversheds worries that the EU may ‘feel they need to put a significant tariff on Britain to stop other people voting out’ which seems to be a concern echoing throughout the industry.
However, with all this doom and gloom, will anything good come out of Brexit for the food and drink industry? Well…
Regulation looks set to be a potential area of positivity to come from this decision, with the NFU describing it as a ‘golden opportunity’ to create a new agricultural policy that is specifically beneficial to British farmers. In the past, some of the previous EU legislations have often been costly and time consuming. However, if our trade with the EU is to continue to grow, new UK legislations still need to be somewhat in line with those of the EU.
Generally, the UK food industry, while worried about the uncertainty that Britain’s exit will cause UK businesses, has reacted calmly and rationally, with the main focus being to put the minds of their members and producers at ease as much as possible. While speculation is rife as to what will happen in the future, the food industry has rallied together to aim to make sense of this decision and put pressure on the government to provide some kind of clarity as to their future security.
While it is yet unclear how Brexit will affect the food industry in the coming months and years, what is clear is that we are heading into a large period of uncertainty for UK industries.
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