Food and drink sector still haunted by the impact of Brexit

Sam Boyle, Consultant

The Brexit referendum vote may seem like a lifetime ago to many, however the impacts are still being felt within the food and drink sector almost daily. Rules and regulations are still being announced by the UK Government, with many leading to increased costs to importers and exporters in the industry, ultimately leading to increased food prices for consumers.

Just recently, the Cabinet Office in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced a series of changes to imports of food, animal and plant products in a bid to “improve biosecurity”. What this means in practice, is that companies importing from the EU will have to present health certifications to UK authorities upon entry.

Like many rule and regulation changes, this will incur a cost. To cover these additional costs, the UK Government has introduced a common user charge for the goods being imported through the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel. Those in the industry fear these changes will impact smaller retailers and wholesalers, those that already don’t have huge budgets to play with. Given this, consumers partial to mozzarella from Italy or chorizo from Spain may notice a reduced variety of goods and higher prices.

These extra costs to businesses are set to impact food prices, with the Government acknowledging that the extra red tape and checks contributing, but not as much as seen in recent times. Some industry experts have said they could lead to a weekly food shop increasing by £8 a week, however we won’t know for sure until the changes have been implemented fully over the coming months.

If you couple this latest announcement with the Government’s plans to introduce the requirement for ‘not for EU’ labels on retail products across England, Scotland and Wales, you can see why many within the industry are less than happy with Rishi Sunak’s government.

From October 2023 all meat and dairy products moving from Great Britain to be sold in Northern Ireland require a ‘not for EU’ label to avoid them being moved into the Republic of Ireland (an EU member country). But from October 2024, the Government plans to impose this rule across all meat and dairy products across the UK and on further products from July 2025. The labels have also caused confusion among consumers with many feeling like the products are second best and don’t comply with EU food standards. So the changes aren’t benefiting producers or consumers…

These new changes could of course be scrapped or reversed under a Labour government following the general election later in the year. They have already committed to reconnecting with Europe while remaining outside the EU, the single market and the customs union, through the 2025 UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement review. This has been framed as an opportunity to reduce trading friction on food and agriculture goods, the opposite of what seems to be happening recently. How this looks in practice, we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, importers, exporters and consumers will continue to be affected by new rules and regulations stemming from Brexit 8 years after the referendum vote and 4 years since the UK ‘officially left’. At a time where food security is being discussed more than ever and rising food prices are dominating the headlines, the industry is looking to the Government and Labour to support them and ensure the sector can continue to thrive.

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