Government “no deal” plans to provide limited protections for domestic food producers under a zero import tariff regime would still be a “disaster” for the sector, Unite has warned.
The warning came amidst condemnations from across the food and agriculture sector of the government’s lack of consultation over its no deal planning and the insufficient protections offered.
Though MPs, including members of the cabinet, inflicted a devastating defeat on the prime minister by voting for a no deal to be rejected outright yesterday evening (March 13), the risk of crashing out of the EU remains as the vote contains no legal force.
Under the government’s plans to scrap 87 per cent of import tariffs on goods to zero there are some protections for food, most notably meats such as lamb, beef and poultry.
However, domestic fruit, vegetables, cereals and eggs – sectors in which many Unite members work – would receive no protections.
“Some areas of agriculture and farming would be shielded with tariffs but will still face the consequences of large tariff reductions for producers from non-EU states,” explained Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture Bev Clarkson.
“Overall workers across the sector may well find their jobs and working conditions under threat from a flood of cheap imports that could also potentially be of a much lower standard.
“Nor will zero import tariffs make any difference to FDA businesses facing costly export tariffs.
“In short, even with the meagre protections the government has planned, zero tariffs and a no deal Brexit would be a complete disaster.”
The government announced the changes as part of its attempts to prevent a £9bn increase in the cost of food imported from the EU if no deal occurs and the UK defaults to World Trade Organisation import tariffs.
Unions and business leaders eviscerated the plans, with Unite saying they would imperil manufacturing, food and agricultural communities across the UK.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said, “Unite represents tens of thousands of workers in food, drink and agriculture and stands for safe, healthy food and high quality jobs.
“We are now in an appalling, bizarre and deeply worrying situation where the Tories are acting without the expertise from the sector, and setting plans which will wreck parts of our economy while claiming they will partially assist others.
“Protections for the food, drink and agriculture sector are vital but the government’s plans – which are temporary and only over some of our domestic food produce – are only necessary because of Theresa May’s foolhardy intransigence in ruling out leaving without a deal.
“The proposed plans have been announced with no consultation with the sector and no involvement of food, drink and agriculture workers.
“Fortunately the majority of MPs have seen through the prime ministers negotiating strategy and the threat of no deal and gone some way in pulling the country back from the brink, but the threat is real and it remains.
Diana Holland called on the government, MPs and the EU to protect food security and standards, to support workers in the sector and to bring the possibility of a no deal Brexit to a “resolute end”.
She added, “The truth is that our agricultural, food manufacturing and other at risk sectors would all be protected if we belonged to a customs union with the EU – as Unite and Labour have been saying all along.”