steve murrells

Steve Murrells has launched a plea to Theresa May calling for continued long-term co-operation and partnership with the EU

Co-op boss Steve Murrells has launched a plea to Theresa May to avoid a “cliff edge” departure from Europe, calling for continued long-term co-operation and partnership with the EU.

Murrells said what he termed a “co-operative Brexit” could be good for good for Britain, but said it would not happen if the government closed the door on Europe after its departure.

The CEO welcomed last week’s commitment from environment secretary Michael Gove that and said climate change was just one major issue that would still need a co-ordinated approach across Europe.

“Climate change is one of those big issues that’s already changing the way we live and work and do business,” Murrells said in a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference on Friday.

“I welcome Michael Gove’s commitment to caring for the environment, which he made at the conference. It’s good news that future farm subsidy payments will be used to encourage farmers to protect our planet.

“The Co-op has a long history of campaigning on environmental issues,” he added. “What we’ve learnt is that there’s only so much we can do by ourselves without also working with local authorities, national government and our competitors. And as a nation you can’t tackle climate change alone.

“The air and the sea don’t recognise lines on a map. So our future relationship with Europe has to recognise that a co-ordinated, co-operative approach to climate change is needed if we’re to create level playing fields for businesses all across the globe.”

Murrells cited labour markets as another key area where the government had to continue working closely with the EU.

“At the Co-op we currently employ thousands of colleagues from the continent,” he said. “They work in our stores, in our logistics depots and in our funeral homes. They are part of our working family. We want them to be here, and we need them to be here.

I know there are many agricultural businesses that feel the same way about the EU nationals that work for them. And for those businesses this issue is absolutely critical to their future.”

Murrells said in his speech that Brexit presented a chance for a boom in co-operative farming in the UK.

He said: “I’d like to see practical steps included in the government’s new food and farming policy to encourage more co-ops in farming because we know it creates greater resilience, fairness and sustainability, especially in times of market volatility.

“It’s clear that leaving the EU creates opportunities as well as risks. The exact nature of our departure will determine how the scales tip at the end of the day. My belief is that British farming should be known for quality and welfare. We should not make leaving the EU the starting gun for a race to the bottom.”