Irish cattle

A clear post-Brexit direction is much in demand for UK food & drink businesses, as Bord Bia’s latest study proves

Tempers are fraying ahead of a potentially crucial Brexit summit of cabinet members at Chequers on Friday. 

Ministers are “expected” to agree on the latest in a long line of Brexit proposals after EU chiefs demanded more clarity from the UK at last week’s Brussels summit.

After an eventful seven days – bookended by Boris Johnson’s “f*** business” tirade and threats of a coup by Jacob Rees-Mogg – a clear post-Brexit direction for UK business is much in demand.

Nowhere is this felt more urgently than in food & drink.

Data from Bord Bia’s latest Brexit Barometer study, which polls more than 100 Irish food businesses on their preparedness for Brexit (representing half of the country’s total food exporters to the UK), reveals serious misgivings over Britain’s current preparations.

Some 85% of respondents were actively seeking to expand into new markets outside the UK as a result of Brexit, while 24% had changed their sourcing strategy due to supply concerns and were now sourcing from elsewhere in the EU.

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‘It remains a fact that every exporter to the UK who postpones decision making around the challenge of Brexit is opening their business to risk,’ the report warned.

Food and drink is not alone in feeling frustrated. Earlier today it was the turn of the British Chambers of Commerce to vent its spleen about Brexit inertia, and it didn’t hold back.

The patience of UK businesses was “reaching breaking point” over the UK’s Brexit preparations, said BCC director general Adam Marshall. He warned time was running out on a host of crucial issues concerning the UK’s relationship with the EU including VAT, tariffs, future customs arrangements, regulation, R&D and labour.

Importantly, as Marshall points out, these are “not ‘siren voices’ or ‘special interests’”. They are the practical, real-world concerns of companies of every size and sector, in every part of the UK.

Indeed, they are concerns echoed in conversations we at The Grocer have with our contacts umpteen times a day.

At a time when the CO2 crisis is throwing a spotlight on how vulnerable supply chains can be to disruption, many companies are desperate for a bit of certainty – or, at the very least, a clear sense of direction.

And while it’s true not all of this is in the UK government’s hands – our EU partners, too, have to show willing – we, as the ones looking to leave, surely have to lead by example.

This means, as Marshall put it, it’s time for our politicians to “stop the squabbling and the Westminster point-scoring and start putting the national economic interest first”.

It might sound like a broken record, but who knows, with the clock ticking they might now listen.