Businesses swamped by Brexit urge Gove to delay all other plans

The government has been asked to pause as a matter of “great urgency” consultations on all food, farming and environment issues because Brexit is choking the capacity of businesses to respond to Michael Gove’s plans.

Leaders from 32 organisations across all sectors have written to the environment, food and rural affairs secretary to express their “deep concern” over the resources they are having to divert to protect against the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.

The intervention means that consultations on Gove’s pet projects, such as a bottle deposit scheme for England and Wales, could be delayed.

“Businesses throughout the UK food chain – and their trade associations – are now totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit. Large amounts of time, money, people and effort are being diverted to that end,” says the letter, signed by among others the National Farmers’ Union, the Food and Drink Federation and the International Meat Trade Association.

“At this moment of potential crisis for our industry, it cannot be ‘business as usual’ within government,” it says, listing 12 consultations Gove has in the pipeline or has already launched.

Ongoing and expected consultations the organisations say should be delayed include a tax on plastic items with less than 30% recycled content, further advertising restrictions on foods high in fat, salt or sugar, a national action plan on pesticides and a clean air strategy.

They say they are in crisis management mode, and while Gove can allocate resources to his own consultations, they cannot.

“Neither we nor our members have the physical resources nor organisational bandwidth to engage with and properly respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives at this time. Government has recruited many extra staff; we cannot,” they say.

“We very strongly urge you therefore to require of your cabinet colleagues that a range of current and planned consultations that will impact food and drink, some of which are expected shortly, are firmly and clearly placed on ‘pause’ until this uncertainty is over. A list of the relevant consultations of which we are aware is given in the appendix to this letter.

“If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond.”

Among those that also signed the letter are the Food and Drinks Wales Industry Board, the British Meat Processors Association, the British Poultry Association, Dairy UK and UK Hospitality, representing hotels, restaurants and venues.

The decision for such a broad swath of industry organisations to come together is a sign of the deep frustration felt over the fact that no deal is still on the table.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said getting a deal remained the “top priority” and it was working with the industry “to help prepare for all scenarios”. But there was no indication it would pause consultations.

“While we have intensified our no-deal planning, we are continuing to tackle other priority issues that matter to people, including our plans to reduce plastic waste and deliver a green Brexit,” it said.

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