Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at news in the UK since the beginning of 2019 will know that Brexit is dominating politics, business and indeed the entire country’s coverage of current affairs.
The UK voted to leave Europe more than 2 years ago, and for many the issue is causing a great deal of fatigue. Businesses have held back on investment and other developments while they wait for a new relationship with the continent to be settled.
As I write, Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to get her deal approved by parliament, and with the deadline for Britain’s withdrawal set as 29 March, there is a real danger that Britain will crash out without a deal.
A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for farming, according to most within the sector. The National Farmers Union’s president Minette Batters, for example, says it would be a “catastrophe”.
The reason for this is that potentially every imported product or foodstuff we export could be disrupted. Britain is dependent on the ability to trade darker cuts of poultrymeat, like wings and thighs with countries where consumers prefer them, and in turn, must import breast meat to meet demand.
The egg sector is more insulated, with most fresh produce coming from UK farms – although those that use egg products face potential disruption.
More broadly, both the poultrymeat and egg sectors face structural challenges as the political will to allow unskilled migration to fulfil labour requirement dries up – it has been estimated that up to three quarters of staff in both sectors are immigrants.
And aside from poultry, the wider food industry is reliant on supply chains built up over decades to keep supermarket shelves stocked and people full. A number of the UK’s largest retailers recently wrote that fresh fruit and vegetables could run out without a deal, as Britain is particularly reliant on European imports in the winter months and early spring.
Many feel that food production has been overlooked as the UK seeks to safeguard the industries that provide the most employment or generate the highest number of tax receipts. The same people rightly point out, however, that a secure food supply is an important component of national security.