The vice president of sugar giant Tate & Lyle Sugars Gerald Mason sent a letter to the company’s 800 employees yesterday explaining how a vote to leave would mean the biggest cane sugar refiner in Europe was better off.
Tate & Lyle Sugars VP: 'This is not the sort of democracy I want to be part of'
“Without […] EU policies our business would be thriving but instead it is losing money. Last year EU restrictions and tariffs pushed our raw material costs up by nearly €40 million alone, turning what should have been a good profit that we would all share in to a €25m loss.
“We pay as much as €3.5m of import tariffs to the European Union on some of the boats of cane sugar that unload at our refinery, only for the European Union to then send that money to subsidise our beet sugar producing competitors in Europe."
Mason said he was not trying to tell employees how they should vote, and that he would liked to remain in a reformed EU but the EU had chosen not to reform.
“Over the years successive British Governments of any politics have told me that they are helpless to get reform to these bad European Union policies because they are outnumbered by 19 beet producing countries. British Government policy is that cane and beet should compete on fair terms. And when I argued our case in Brussels, a senior EU official told me that if we lose our jobs then that’s democracy because there are more beet producers than cane refiners in Europe. That is not the sort of democracy I want to be part of."
1,280 businesses leaders: 'We know our firms are stronger in Europe'
Meanwhile the leaders of 1,280 UK business leaders, including 51 FTSE 100 firms, have signed an open letter explaining why they will be voting to remain in Britain.
The letter, published on the website of the Stronger In Europe campaign group, includes high profile signatories such as Virgin tycoon Richard Branson and chairman of Barclays Bank, John McFarlane.
Executive vice president for Europe of Arla Foods, Peter Giørtz-Carlsen and the CEOs of Britvic and Asda have also signed.
“We know our firms are stronger in Europe. Our reasons are straightforward: businesses and their employees benefit massively from being able to trade inside the world’s largest single market without barriers.
“As business people, we always look to the future — and a future inside the EU is where we see more opportunities for investment, growth and new jobs. We know that Britain leaving the EU would mean having to re-establish terms of trade from scratch with our home market of 500m consumers.”
Artisan food law expert: 'Many small-scale producers may never recover'
And although some polls have indicated that around half of SMEs are pro-Brexit, Stronger In campaigners said the signatories included around 900 small businesses, ranging from a salt maker in Anglesey, dairy farmers in Devon, printers in Antrim and whiskey distilleries in the Scottish Highlands.
According to legal expert, Gerry Danby, remaining a part of the EU is by far the better choice for small scale food producers.
Danby, who has taken a critical view of some EU policies and their impact on artisan producers on his blog, Artisan Food Law, nevertheless believes the EU has and would continue to benefit industry players, both small and large.
The EU has driven up food standards in a generally positive way by taking a ‘from farm to fork’ approach, increased food diversity available and provided tariff-free trade with a market of 500 million consumers, he said.
Furthermore, for British producers who benefit from protected designation of origin (PDO) or protected geographical indication (PGI), a Brexit vote would leave them in the ironic position of enjoying protection for their products within the EU but not in their native Britain.
“Yes, there are changes and improvements which could be made to food legislation, not everything works well, especially for artisan and small scale food producers. It cannot be right that regulations designed for industrial scale production in large factories are fit for purpose when it comes to applying them to, for example, a small artisan cheesemaker. The way to effect change, however, is from within," he said.
“A vote to leave would be hugely damaging to many small scale food producers, many may never recover, the burgeoning independent food scene in the UK would be dealt a serious blow. Much better to work on what we have than throw it all away.”
The analyst’s view: 'Depending on ‘divorce’ negotiations, an array of threats and opportunities would exist'
Global lead of economies and consumers at Euromonitor Sarah Boumphrey, told FoodNavigator the uncertainty that would ensue following a pro-Brexit vote would contribute to falls in business and consumer confidence as well as delays to investment decisions.
“Exit negotiations will be protracted, with the UK unlikely to leave the EU before 2018. The medium term outlook would depend very much on the terms of the exit negotiations, making it very difficult to quantify the economic impact, or indeed determine the regulations which UK business would still need to adhere to. Depending on the outcome of the “divorce” negotiations, an array of threats and opportunities would exist.”