16 January 2019, 09:41 AM
  • The food and drink industry is today reacting after Brexit preparations took a dramatic turn last night. MPs voted down the Withdrawal Bill, heightening the business community's concerns for the months ahead
“This really is crunch time”: Industry reacts to historic Government Brexit defeat

After months of anticipation, MPs finally had their say on the deal negotiated by the Government and other member states of the EU. The result, when it came, was resounding, with MPs rejecting prime minister Theresa May’s deal by a majority of 203 votes. With leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, calling for a vote of no confidence in the Government, and the clock ticking down to a ‘no-deal Brexit’ on 29th March, business owners, and trade leaders, are grappling with further uncertainty.

“Currently it’s business as usual however we are looking at plans if a no deal arises and how that could affect our business,” said Oliver Shorts of handmade chocolatier Seed and Bean. “Obviously it’s the tariffs that could hit small businesses hard so we currently have to sit tight and wait for the government to come up with a resolution.”

A workable solution, and the speed with which firm details can be communicated to SMEs, is as elusive as ever. “The Prime Minister’s deal has been decisively rejected and it is now vital that the political leadership find a way to indicate what alternative should be pursued,” commented Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation. “We are calling for an extension to the transition period in order for parliament to decide what our next steps are; whether that is a new deal, a referendum, an orderly exit from the EU without a deal at a later date, or a general election.”

With many trade groups and businesses signalling their concern at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the pressure is on to find a way forward. “It’s been a bit of a wake-up call for the Europeans,” said John Stapleton, founder of New Covent Garden Soup, investor in SME food businesses, and resident of Germany. “The reaction here is ‘Oh, the deal’s been hugely defeated. What have they been doing in Westminster and Brussels for all these years?”

For John, the polarised options left on the table make life harder for the food and drink sector. “Both extremes, no deal or no Brexit, have become more likely. The no deal option is a catastrophe and should be avoided at all costs,” he said. “The food and drink industry in the UK is hugely exposed to the effect of a hard Brexit.”

“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,” said NFU President Minette Batters. “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.”

Have you changed preparations for Brexit in light of last night’s vote? Send your comments to editorial@specialityfoodmagazine.com or join the Twitter debate @specialityfood.