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Impact from the shock result for Britain to exit the European Union – by a clear majority of 52% to 48% – is being felt in the food and drink industry, a sector at the forefront of EU regulation for the past four decades. The immediate aftermath of the count saw the pound drop to a 31-year low against the dollar and estimated $3 trillion wiped off the value of global markets. In the deep uncertainty that followed Chancellor George Osbourne emerged to confirm that the period of economic adjustment ahead will hold either further austerity measures or higher taxes. “The country is going to be poorer,” he said.
Protracted negotiations both in London and Brussels are the inevitable upshot of a vote to re-instate British independence, but work to protect trade, maintain standards, retain a workforce and safeguard production must wait. With political upheaval on an unprecedented scale reshaping the leadership and opposition, and delaying the trigger of the infamous ‘Article 50’ to begin withdrawal from Europe, Specialty Food took a straw poll of reactions, and discovered divisions over the Remain or Leave debate are translating into mixed views on the likely events ahead.
Matthew O’Callaghan, UK Protected Food Names Association
I’m disappointed. I was at my local count and had a sense it might well be a tight result. As far as the EU’s protected food names scheme goes, UK-made products within the scheme will see no effect in European markets. The problem comes if European law no longer applies in the UK; then our foods lose protection within the domestic marketplace. It’s likely to be a two-year process to leave Europe so we feel Government should enact, as a matter of urgency, a law within the UK. Otherwise our members are worried that imitations will come onto the market. If so, retailers will have a role to play in sticking with their current suppliers to make sure their customers are getting the authentic article.
Anthony Davison, director of Big Barn
I voted to stay because I thought remaining in the EU was the lesser of two evils. Now we’re out I think in the long term it could be be quite good for us. The powers that be in Europe have set an agricultural policy over last 30 years to suit all farmers in the EU, so I think we can do better by setting one to to suit us.
Realistically I doubt much will change over the next two years, but I’m hopeful people will be looking for British produce more and more and supporting their local farmers.
Mark Kacary, The Norfolk Deli
When George Osborne came up with the idea that come next April small business rates would effectively be annihilated for the majority of businesses, I just knew we’d end up voting leave and have to kiss that goodbye because we wouldn’t be able to afford it. And not only that, the existing chancellor and PM will be gone and so that deal will be off the table.
I can’t understand why people were ready to accept the view that this can be some form of amicable divorce, that somehow Europe won’t want to let us go without giving us everything we wanted in the first place. What absolute poppycock.
Melony Nichols, Thomas Shellfish
I’m a bit apprehensive now Brexit is coming to fruition but I don’t feel Brussels is democratic. Trying to expand the business we’ve hit the brick wall of EU regulations so many times. Juncker and the rest say they know what’s best for us, but 70% of fish stocks are in our waters and yet we’re only allowed to fish for 17% of them.
I live in the South East but I grew up in South Wales during the miners’ strike and go back for work. It’s like moving between two different worlds. Working in fisheries has been a real eye-opener for me; I don’t think the UK Government understands fishing but it’s Europe that has hung Welsh industries out to dry for the greater good of the union.
Nick Adams, organic livestock farmer, Derbyshire
I was surprised at the strength of feeling for exit, but as a farmer I’ve lobbied many times for change and constantly come up against the Commission. The regulations they pass seem trivial but for farmers they’re our day-to-day worries. Am I ploughing too close to the hedge? Have I notified about the birth of a calf in time? I was one day late with a TB test – no danger to public health – and was fined £1,700. I never thought we’d come out, but when Cameron came back from negotiations with so little I realised we could sort things out ourselves.
I’m positive, despite all the hysteria. We want a weaker pound so we can export; we need inflation to help the economy. They say it could trigger a recession, well we’re already in recession – that’s why our Government already has extraordinary measures in place. And I’m not sure we should be too worried about a few speculators in the city losing their jobs.
Andreas Georghiou, Andreas Veg
It’s hard to believe what’s happened; what’s becoming very clear now is there was no plan [for Brexit]. There is huge uncertainty among my Italian and French suppliers. They want to know what’s going to happen and I don’t have an answer. If the pound continues to devalue some overseas companies may well become more selective about who they deal with. It might even come to pro-forma payments.
The effect straight away was that we were quieter on Friday and Saturday because people didn’t want to spend money. Uncertainty is the key word; it’s becoming obvious people didn’t realise the severity of the effect if they voted for Leave.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union
The vote to leave the EU will inevitably lead to a period of uncertainty in a number of areas of vital importance to Britain’s farmers. Our members will want to know the impact on their businesses as a matter of urgency. We understand that the negotiations will take some time to deliver, but it’s vital there is early commitment to ensure British farming is not disadvantaged. It is vital that British farming is profitable and remains competitive; it’s the bedrock of the food industry – Britain’s largest manufacturing sector.