Post-Brexit options for UK assessed

By Keith Nuttall

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Eu European union Uk

What options are there for Great Britain if Brexit does actually happen?
What options are there for Great Britain if Brexit does actually happen?
The UK’s vote last week (23 June) to quit the European Union (EU) creates deep uncertainty over the shape of future meat and livestock regulations in Britain.

The same applies to EU market access for British meat and livestock companies or exporters from the rest of the EU wanting to target British consumers.

Victory by the ‘Leave’ side in Britain’s in-out referendum enables the UK government to kick off an exit process by invoking Article 50 in the Treaty on European Union, which gives notice that member state wishes to leave.

Assuming Article 50 is invoked, and only a serious political crisis would prevent this, Britain would have two years to renegotiate its relationship with the EU, during which time existing EU legislation would stay in force. This ranges from the EU animal welfare legislation, meat health rules, veterinary certificate legislation, residue limits food health claim regulations, plastic packaging content rules and much more​. 

Meanwhile, the UK must choose what kind of relationship it wants with its former EU partners. One option would be for Britain to apply to join the European Economic Area (EEA) – which currently includes non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This EU halfway house system could limit the economic impact of a Brexit. The UK would recover control of its meat and livestock production spending, and could protect its food markets – although that freedom is prescribed for some manufactured foods​.

The quid pro quo, is that the EU would be able to raise duties against UK meat exports.

Another option would be following Switzerland and negotiating bilateral trade deals with the EU. But the Swiss usually have to implement EU rules as the price of such deals. And they are struck only where the EU wants to grant the Swiss market access – so duties on UK meat and livestock exports to the remaining EU could well be erected.

Another quandary would be the fate of EU trade deals that Britain is already part of – such as the free trade agreement with South Korea; those that are pending ratification – such as the deal with Canada; or those under discussion – such as the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA.

The Canadian deal would have to be renegotiated as regards the UK, a process that maybe slower than with the rest of the EU – giving continental manufacturers better access to the Canada market. The US has already said that Britain would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal with America, long after TTIP is concluded with the rest of the EU, and it is assessing the impact of Brexit on the agreement. And previously approved deals such as with South Korea would cease to apply after the UK’s two-year cooling-off period, unless the South Koreans agree continued market access. They may not.

Another uncertainty is over whether the UK will implement EU meat livestock-related legislation that has already been approved by EU institutions, but where the deadline for following these laws has yet to pass.

Given Britain intends to quit and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could no longer order the UK to comply, will it enforce the EU regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on food and drink information for consumers? It will insist that all pre-packed meat products sold within the EU must display nutrition information in accordance with the new rules by December 2016. But will they apply in Britain? Only time will tell.

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