Brexit dominated the Queen’s Speech today, with eight of the 27 bills relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and its implications for key industries. The food and retail industry reacts:
Ian Wright, director general of the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) said, “Today’s Queen’s Speech lays bare the sheer scale of the challenge facing the Government and Parliament. As we seek to negotiate a new relationship with the EU within just 22 months, securing the right outcome for our food and drink industry is critical to both national security and to the prosperity of our economy. We are committed to this outcome.
"We are ready to seize new opportunities, but our trading and regulatory ties with the EU are deeply interwoven and must be dismantled with care. We cannot afford any ‘cliff edge’ scenario.
“We need certainty that the current legislative framework that underpins our sector’s success – and food safety - will be embedded in UK law by April 2019. At the same time, we need to start designing interim or transitional arrangements that will apply from April 2019 until any new framework applies.
“The bills announced today will require meaningful scrutiny in Parliament and continuing consultation with business. It is imperative that parliamentarians remain focused on securing the right outcomes and do not get side-tracked.
“As these bills progress, FDF will continue to be staunch advocates for UK food and drink manufacturing. We are ready to work with politicians across all parties to get the best Brexit deal. Only then will we secure the vibrant and diverse food industry that UK consumers expect and deserve.
“We are looking for four key outcomes – access to our valued EU workforce, a stable regulatory regime, zero-tariff and frictionless trade across borders and recognition of Ireland’s special circumstances. Food and drink is central to the negotiations and must not be pushed aside. An industrial strategy sector deal for food and drink and focused export support will allow us to maximise our industry’s growth potential and boost productivity levels.
“These are unprecedented challenges and we cannot afford to get it wrong.”
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said, “Carving out a new future for the farming sector is a huge opportunity for the wealth and wellbeing of the nation. We can further our substantial economic, social and environmental contribution and, with that, strengthen the nation’s ability to feed itself and the world.
“Working closely with the new Secretary of State for Defra and his ministerial team will be essential, and this is already off to a good start. But we’ll also need the support of the whole Parliament if British farming is to have a profitable future in a post-Brexit world.
“This is the right opportunity to embed the long term strategic importance of farming sector for the nation.
“The Repeal Bill will be a long and complex process to lift EU law in UK law. As this work goes on we will be maintaining our core asks of Government to ensure British farming has the right legislative framework in place to support a productive, prosperous and progressive food and farming sector.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said, “We are pleased with the ambition to provide certainty for businesses as we head towards Brexit and the commitment to low taxation.
“This is vital for small firms who are facing both uncertainty and rising costs of doing business. A thriving small business community, helped to grow by a supportive government, will be crucial to a strong post-Brexit economy.
“But it is disappointing that this Queen’s Speech was light on other domestic measures for small business. The government must knuckle down to tackle issues such as reform of the Business Rates system and changes to Corporate Governance, to stop big companies badly treating their small business suppliers and contractors. “The Bill to repeal the European Communities Act gives certainty to small businesses in the short-term that Brexit will not mean sudden big changes in regulation.
“On this, it is vital that there is no cliff-edge moment, even though in the long term Brexit provides an opportunity to simplify complicated Brussels processes to make rules much easier to comply with.”
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium said “In very uncertain times, retailers will be encouraged that the Government is seeking to reach out to business.
“It’s right to focus on Brexit. The retail industry’s biggest priority is to work alongside the Government to secure a fair Brexit for consumers. This means ensuring that ordinary shoppers aren’t hit with the cost of unwanted new tariffs and the UK is able to build new trading relationships with the rest of the world in the long-term. In particular, we will seek to work with the Government on the new Trade Bill, which will help in the development of international trade relationships and the Immigration Bill.
“Employers throughout retail must be able to secure their current workforce and fill vacancies in the future. To do this, the Government must secure the rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK at the earliest possible opportunity during the withdrawal negotiations with the EU. We will also seek to work with government to design a new immigration policy that balances the need to control numbers with businesses’ requirements for non-graduate labour to fill vacancies.
“Retailers support the introduction of the National Living Wage but are clear that further increases must be moderate, taking into account broader economic conditions. Reforming the technical skills system is a welcome step in tackling the UK’s skills shortages.
“It’s encouraging that the Government is moving ahead its Industrial Strategy. At the last General Election, all three political parties committed to fixing the broken business rates system and this has the strong support of the industry. Although this wasn’t a part of the Queen’s speech, it is essential that the Government conducts a full review of the business rates system and puts in place a system for the 21st century that does not pit online against offline or large against small. We will seek to work with the Government to look again at the Business Tax Road Map to ensure fairness and incentivise growth and investment.”