Hard Brexit breakdown ‘opportunity’ for meat trade

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

A soft Brexit may be a better deal for EU and UK meat industry players
A soft Brexit may be a better deal for EU and UK meat industry players

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to win a Conservative majority in the general election may soften the government’s hard Brexit rhetoric, benefiting the country's meat industry.

The UK voting outcome led to what is termed a 'hung parliament' in the general election on 8 June, possibly damaging the Conservative Party’s mandate to exit the single market and the customs union. And this could be “an opportunity​” for the animal protein sector, according to Katie Doherty, policy director of the International Meat Trade Association (IMTA).

Doherty, who described hard Brexit as a “huge concern​”, said the election result might mean a dramatic split is “less of possibility which would be a relief for this industry.​”

There may now be an opportunity for the UK government to climb down from their hard Brexit rhetoric and soften their position, meaning we could see some reconsideration of options similar to that of Norway and Switzerland,​” she said.

Neither Norway nor Switzerland are members of the EU, but both enjoy favourable trading arrangements with the bloc. Our sister site Meat Trades Journal​ reports that UK meat leaders, however, fear Britain is unprepared to start Brexit talks.

EU negotiators express shock at UK election result

The UK government now faces a hung parliament, meaning no party has enough seats to secure an overall majority. This may curtail Brexit talks slated to start in 11 days, according to senior EU diplomats.

Italian Member of European Parliament Gianni Pittella described the result as a “disaster​” for Theresa May, adding: “Her huge gamble has backfired spectacularly. She has no credibility in UK or Europe. She should resign​.”

Guy Verhofstadt the European parliament’s Brexit representative, described the result as “yet another own goal - after Cameron now May. [It] will make already complex negotiations even more complicated​”.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier added: “Brexit negotiations should start when UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear. Let’s put our minds together on striking a deal.​”

President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, tweeted: “We don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as result of ‘no negotiations.’​”

One of the major blows for the Conservative Party is whether the UK pushes to leave the single market – something the meat industry vociferously oppose​d.

Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, even suggested the party losing its majority might amount to losing its mandate to take Britain out of the single market and customs union.

We’ll see tomorrow whether they [the electorate] accepted that [mandate to exit the single market] or not. That will be their decision,​” Davis said during an interview with Sky News at 2am.

Reaction from UK trade bodies

Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright called for MPs across the political divide to unite at a time of great uncertainty. In a statement, he said: “The nation has delivered its verdict and the country demands leadership at this uncertain time.

Politicians across all the parties must come together to deliver in the national interest so the UK’s £110 billion food and farming industry can continue to thrive​.

The Brexit clock is ticking loudly and the country will not forgive a failure to act.​”

Farming underpins Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, and the National Farmers’ Union called for clarity with uncertainty again at the forefront of the industry’s mind.

NFU members need clarity and certainty as soon as possible over who will govern the country and how they plan to support profitable, productive and progressive agriculture and horticulture in the future,​” NFU president Meurig Raymond said in a statement.

If the formal Brexit negotiations begin as planned on June 19 we will continue to push for the right post-Brexit trade deal, regulatory framework, a domestic agricultural policy suited to Britain and access to a competent, reliable workforce.​”

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