Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP has warned of the impact on the food and drink industry of striking trade deals with non-EU countries in the wake of Brexit.
Speaking at a recent Food and Drink Federation event in London, he highlighted the complexity of the industry’s role within the EU. “About 70% of imports and exports go to and come from the EU. The intimacy of inter-dependence within the EU is great,” he said.
The MP warned that post-Brexit trade deals would not result in falling prices. “Brexit enthusiasts think we’ll be able to remove pesky tariffs and consumers will enjoy a low-cost bonanza. It is a ludicrous utopia. It is simply not going to happen at all,” he said.
“Those tariffs are there because of staunch support from both UK farmers and EU farmers. UK farmers will not be happy if tonnes of Argentinian beef comes into the UK. In the real world we have to dispel the notion that tariffs are at the behest of the EU only.”
As an example, he said that Spain, a major exporter of oranges to the EU, would not play ball if the UK signed trade deals with other orange-producing nations.
“Imagine if we lower tariffs on oranges outside the EU. Would the Spanish government cut us a special deal for car manufacturers and British financial services if we’re going to hamper Spanish orange exports to the UK? No.”
But Gavin Darby, chief executive of Premier Foods, sought to reassure delegates. “The issue of import costs is not new. In 2008 import costs went up by 25% and fuel price inflation was in the teens. It’s happened before and we weathered it. There is real evidence of resilience in the industry.”
Adam Sopher, co-founder and director at Joe & Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn, said the cost of butter had increased by 80% since the Brexit vote.