Theresa May has been warned the future of UK food and and farming is at risk unless the government negotiates a successful post-Brexit deal for the industry.
More than 70 agri-food companies and organisations with a combined annual turnover of £92bn have joined forces to urge the prime minister that tariff-free access to the EU single market and access to overseas labour are vital for UK food and farming to flourish post-Brexit.
The coalition – which has written an open letter to Mrs May – includes Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Dairy Crest, Morrisons, Muller and Weetabix, as well as the NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union.
“Maintaining tariff-free access to the EU single market is a vital priority,” says the letter, which was sent to the prime minister on Wednesday (30 November).
“It is where 75% of our food exports go, so all our farming and food businesses wish to achieve this outcome.”
The letter adds: “The sector needs access to EU and non-EU seasonal and permanent labour, alongside assurances that EU workers already working permanently in the UK are allowed to remain. This access to labour is essential.”
Access to overseas labour underpins the UK food chain’s timely delivery of high-quality affordable food to consumers, said the letter.
“We would urge that the UK government seeks both these goals as the whole of society and the economy will benefit.”
NFU president Meurig Raymond said a Brexit settlement which recognised the critical role of the UK food chain was essential.
“Food production is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector – bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined,” he said.
The letter comes a week after farmers and agricultural suppliers were urged to unite in a bid to secure the best Brexit deal for the sector.
A united front was vital if government ministers were to heed the needs of the farming sector post-Brexit, industry leaders were told.
The warning was issued by David Caffall, chief executive of the Agricultural Industries Confederation, the umbrella organisation for the agricultural supply chain.
“Unless the whole industry works together, we won’t even feature in anyone’s planning,” he said.
Mr Caffall was speaking to delegates at Agribusiness 2017 – the annual conference for agricultural suppliers.
More than 350 representatives from across the agricultural supply chain attended the event, held at the Peterborough Arena on Wednesday (23 November).
Defra deputy farming director Tim Morden said a lot of “complex preparatory work” was going on as the government prepared to trigger the EU exit process.
Defra wanted to work in partnership on Brexit and would engage more closely with the industry soon, he told the conference.