According to union Unite, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has refused to publish details of the expected consequences that Brexit will have on food prices.
Unite made a freedom of information request to DEFRA asking: “What assessment or estimate has been made of the increase in food prices in the run-up to the UK leaving the European Union and the first five years after the UK’s departure?”
Unite revealed DEFRA responded that the information requested is being “withheld” because “it falls under the exemption in section 35 of the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], which relates to the formulation and development in government policy".
According to section 35, the FOIA can be used to withhold information that relates to “the formulation or development of government policy” as well as “Ministerial communications”, “the provision of advice by any of the Law Officers” or “the operation of any Ministerial private office”.
DEFRA had not responded to requests for comment at the time of press.
Unite is the largest union representing food, drink and agriculture workers. The union said it has appealed against the decision to withhold the information arguing that the public interest test justifies publishing the report. If the internal review is rejected then Unite will appeal further to the Information Commissioners Office, the union confirmed.
Does this point to price rises?
The union claims the Department’s decision to withhold information “increases concerns” that there will be a “sharp increase in prices” and “possible food shortages” in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU.
This, Unite suggested, will have “massive” implications for both consumers and workers in the food industry.
According to figures from industry body the Food and Drink Federation, the EU currently accounts for 70% of the UK's total food imports, a trade valued at £24.6bn. The National Farmers Union revealed that currently the UK only produces enough food domestically to cover 60% of annual consumption. The food sector has also repeatedly warned that production issues would be exasperated if the industry is denied access to EU workers after Brexit.
An assessment from the British Retail Consortium, released earlier this month, concluded that a "no deal" Brexit that saw trade relations revert to World Trade Organization rules could result in a one-third jump in food prices.
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Julia Long said: “If the government knows that Brexit is going to affect food prices, then they need to tell the general public and not pretend that there isn’t a problem.
“The type of Brexit that the UK chooses will clearly have major implications on the nations shopping basket and we need to know what those factors will be.”
The Secretary of State at DEFRA is Michael Gove, who was a leading member of the Leave campaign working to secure Britain’s exit from the EU during the referendum campaign.