The London School of Economics says Brexit already increased food prices by around six per cent.
A parliamentary report published in June 2022 described the impact of Brexit on the fishing industry as largely ‘unexpected and unwelcome’.
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Hard Brexit means UK farmers, fishers and food industries are excluded from the single market.
Trade barriers and delays at ports impact food worse than any other type of product, given that much is perishable and that food and veterinary regulations in the EU are – rightly –stringent and demand considerable administrative time.
Small farm businesses often cannot export at all, because they rely on transporters to the EU grouping loads from different suppliers – many hauliers no longer offer this service, as each product needs complex paperwork. If one set is incorrect the whole load may go off as a result of the delay.
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is much criticised and far from perfect. But it ensures relatively cheap and sustainable food production and guarantees an income for farmers. Payments based on CAP rules will be halved by 2025 and removed completely by 2027. There has been no clear information from the UK government on how farmers’ reduced income will be mitigated.
UK farmers and environmental groups have been critical of aspects of the government’s (yet to be finalised) proposed replacement for the CAP, the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union, has said that the government has shown a “total lack of understanding of how food production works.”
Meanwhile, farmers have suffered from sometimes crippling labour shortages caused by the end of free movement and inadequate attempts to replace it for agriculture with short-term schemes that provide workers with no rights, inflict endless red tape on employers and often do not even cover the categories of farm workers most urgently needed.
Labour shortages have led to thousands of healthy pigs being destroyed.
The government’s vain attempt to replace the benefits of the single market through trade deals with far-flung countries (Australia, New Zealand, perhaps later the US, India..) carries a triple risk.
First, off subjecting consumers to lower quality, less sustainably and humanely produced food – like chlorinated chicken or hormone pumped beef.
Second, exposing UK farmers to unfair competition – Ms Batters says that they have been ‘ a pawn’ in such trade negotiations. The EU, with its seven times larger market, is much better placed than the UK to defend its corner in trade talks, where agriculture and food are always a key ‘battleground’.
Third, replacing short-haul transport of imported food from the EU with much more polluting long-haul journeys from many thousands of miles away.
Already, the government’s failure to introduce checks on imports from or via the EU – because such ‘controlling of borders’ risks even bigger traffic jams at UK ports - is placing our farmers at a further disadvantage compared to EU counterparts. It is also endangering food safety now that the UK is no longer part of EU early warning systems and information exchanges about suspect produce.
Some fishing communities saw Brexit as an opportunity to cut the numbers of European boats in UK waters and thus to catch more fish. But some British fishers also need reciprocal access to EU waters and most need to sell their fish in Europe - many species fished in UK waters are mainly eaten in EU countries.
Outside the single market, that has proved near impossible for many. Some species of shellfish caught and/or farmed in the UK have in practice been completely excluded from EU markets.
Even where that is not the case, the effect has been dramatic. For example, prawns from North Shields used to arrive in France the day after being caught. Now it takes three days. Longer if they are held up because of incorrect paperwork or because an entirely different product in the same lorry is not in full conformity. And prawns have a fresh shelf-life of five days1!
Fishing businesses that once supported Brexit are increasingly critical of it. For example, CEO of UK Fisheries Jane Sandell told the Brexit-cheerleading Daily Express in early September 2022 that “We’re at 50 percent of the fishing opportunities that were available before Brexit, which means we’re at 50 percent of the turnover that we could be creating."
Eel producer Peter Wood has said he would never have voted for Brexit if he had known what the outcome would be for his business. As he put it: ‘Our customers have also got a raft of documentation to produce to allow the import to go ahead. So why buy from the UK? Might as well buy from another producer in France or the EU’.