Scottish agri-food sector warns about ‘catastrophic impact’ of no deal Brexit

‘The cost to our industry would be at least £2bn in lost sales annually … on top of the short-term chaos from transport delays and labour shortages’

The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) has joined other farmer organisations from across the nation in urging MPs to reject a no-deal Brexit.

In an open letter to UK politicians, representatives from Scotland’s food and drink umbrella organisations expressed concern over the “potentially catastrophic impact of not reaching a deal”.

Scotland’s farming, food and drink industry is worth £15bn.

The letter reads: “We are collectively hugely ambitious for the growth of our industry.  However, even using the UK government’s own projections, we estimate the cost of no-deal to our industry would be at least £2bn in lost sales annually.  That is on top of the short-term chaos resulting from transport delays and labour shortages.

“Indeed, our businesses are already bearing the cost of no-deal, having to spend millions of pounds in time and investment to mitigate the potential disruption that will stem from the UK crashing out of the EU.

“We represent the people who farm Scotland’s land and seas, and food and drink businesses that are the nation’s largest onshore manufacturing industry, employing 120,000 people. The EU accounts for 70% of Scottish food exports annually and it is also the source of crucial inputs and supplies for our sector.

“By Parliament rejecting a no-deal scenario, our industry effort can focus on shaping a future relationship with the EU that we can work with, not preparing for the fallout we can’t. There is no tolerance for no-deal as an option. It must be rejected now.”

SAOS chief executive James Graham is one of the signatories of the letter, along with James Withers – chief executive – Scotland Food & Drink; Scott Walker – chief executive – NFU Scotland; Alan Clarke – chief executive – Quality Meat Scotland; David Thomson – chief executive – Food and Drink Federation Scotland; Julie Hesketh-Laird – chief executive – Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation; and Alasdair Smith – chief executive – Scottish Bakers.

Mr Graham said that SAOS maintained its position following the MPs’ vote to reject the deal brokered by Theresa May.

Responding to the Commons vote, NFU president Minette Batters said: “As a result of the vote in the House of Commons, the country now finds itself in a situation where a no-deal Brexit appears to be increasingly likely. I have been clear that such an exit would simply be catastrophic for Britain and its food and farming sector and the country’s ability to produce home-grown food.

“A no-deal Brexit could lead to huge disruption as a result of an effective trade embargo on the export of animals and animal products to the EU leaving many livestock farmers with no market for their produce. At the same time, we know that the government would choose to unilaterally lower import tariffs on food.  Let’s be clear about that, if that happened Britain would be actively encouraging food imports from all over the world potentially produced to food standards lower than is legally allowed by UK farmers.

“This would leave our own farmers facing the devastating outcome of having limited markets for their own produce while at the same time being undercut by low standard imports.

“Such a move would leave Britain with a weakened ability to produce its own food. Once the tap of British food production is turned off, it would be very hard to turn it on again. Nobody would benefit from this.”

In December the NFU’s council agreed six principles, which, it believes, are required to deliver best Brexit outcome for British farmers and growers.

“A no-deal Brexit has to be avoided at all cost,” said Ms Batters. “The NFU has been clear that reaching a Brexit deal is a priority and we will be assessing any deal against our six key principles agreed at an extraordinary meeting of the NFU’s council in December, which includes avoiding a no-deal and ensuring free and frictionless trade with our biggest trading partner.

“The NFU is at the forefront of our industry coming together to warn against a no-deal outcome and we remain committed to playing our part in representing British farmers and growers throughout this process, ensuring their voice is heard across Parliament.

“I urge the government to take all the necessary steps to achieve a deal with the EU that delivers on these principles.”

In this article: