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Unless there is a last-minute deal, proposals such as a DRS would have to go ahead without input from the industry

Food and drink businesses were always destined to be at heart of the Brexit debate, no matter how much its leaders were forced to sit on the fence because of the division the referendum caused within the industry.

As the UK teeters closer to the brink of a no deal, it’s becoming impossible even for those with the deepest splinters in their backsides to keep a lid on concerns.

Yesterday, business intervention turned to outright rebellion, after more than 30 groups wrote to Michael Gove threatening to withdraw co-operations from huge swathes of food and drink policy, unless a breakthrough is reached.

The BRC was not one of those signatories, though sources insist this is not a sign of a split between retailers and suppliers and that the sentiment is shared. Indeed, it was only two weeks ago that supermarket leaders wrote their own dire warning to Gove.

Yet after the latest development, unless there is a last-minute deal, ministers can kiss goodbye to a bottle deposit return system, voluntary reductions in calories and satfats, and a new PRN system for recycling of plastic to be paid for by industry. And these are just a few of the programmes that without input from retailers and suppliers would surely be impossible to introduce.

Read more: MPs urge end to plastic waste exports to developing nations

Even if ministers are prepared to unleash a huge raft of regulations, then these and other proposals – such as a crackdown on HFSS advertising, a plastic tax and the UK’s environmental strategy for the next 25 years – would have to go ahead without input from the industry. This would make them unworkable, at least without a huge increase in government expenditure and resources.

Of course there will be those who say organisations like the FDF, the NFU and Dairy UK, who were among those who signed yesterday’s threat to Gove, have found the perfect excuse to try to kill off government programmes they don’t like.

For months now, for example, suppliers have been warning they are being bombarded with too many targets in the war on obesity. Could Brexit be a convenient way of kicking that into touch, along with a whole lot more?

As for Gove, it’s unlikely such a canny operator would have been completely blindsided by this move and it could quite suit the minister. He may well be hoping that the horror stories of a no-deal Brexit will prompt MPs to agree to a withdrawal deal before they reach that so-called cliff edge at the end of March.

But while the poison pens of those crying ‘Project Fear’ are being sharpened again in reaction to yesterday’s letter, the developments highlight what those in government and industry have increasingly been recognising for months now. The all-consuming nature of Brexit is going to have an enormous knock-on impact on food and drink policy, the effects of which will last for years.

Read more: One in 10 start to stockpile as no-deal Brexit threat looms

Take labelling policy. It’s not a sexy area for headlines, unlike the predictions of chaos at the ports or soaring food prices. But it is an area with huge cost implications for businesses – as well as safety ones for consumers. A new system for the UK is clearly going to take years to bring into action, regardless of whether there is a deal or not.

Yet supposedly one of the benefits of Brexit to the UK was a chance to take control of its own labelling and escape from EU red tape. What a lot of nonsense that appears to be now. As with so much of Brexit, the promise sounded so much better than the reality.

As for the new Food and Drink Sector Council, which the industry hoped would mark a new dawn in the relationship between the industry and government, it has been made a complete irrelevance because of Brexit. Theresa May’s recent vow to the CBI convention – that government would work “every step of the way” with businesses – is beginning to look like a very hollow promise indeed.