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The Brexit vote was relatively easy but the proof is in the pudding.
Quite literally given the dangers and dilemmas posed for our largest manufacturing sector, the food and drink processing industry.  If the government does not use the right ingredients to protect this industry, Brexit could prove to be a right dog's breakfast.

The food and drink sector is worth £29 billion to the economy. We exported £22 billion in goods last year and that figure is rising.
Some 400,000 people earn their crust directly in this sector and a third of them hail from other EU countries.

The sector is largely and delicately based on just-in-time delivery of goods that have short shelf lives and is heavily integrated with supply chains across Britain and the EU in sourcing raw materials, processing goods, and selling them. Many food and drink manufacturers have factories in both the UK and the rest of the EU.

All this is highly dependent on our participation in the Single Market and Customs Union and free movement of goods and people while the UK export balance has veered towards an over reliance on the EU as a trading partner with 60% of UK exports going to EU markets. Half our exports go to five countries, four of which are in the EU.

The Select Committee that scrutinises the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provides this overview in a recent vital snapshot of the complexity and interconnections of a sector that needs to remain competitive after Brexit. Any failure would mean adversely affect businesses, workers and consumers.

The cross-party Commons committee fears that failure to do a trade deal with the EU and reverting to World Trade Organisation tariffs would be disastrous for UK exports and must be avoided at all costs.

The MPs conclude that we cannot realistically expect the sector to stop relying on the EU as its main export destination at least in the short term and stresses the need for a free trade agreement with the EU.

They also rightly warn about the threat to our competitiveness of any additional delays and bureaucracy at our borders, not least that on the island of Ireland where a hard border should be avoided.

The EU regulatory regime in food and drink is also highly integrated and ensures high safety and quality standards. We should avoid any ‘race to the bottom’ as UK consumers would not tolerate any tainting of our high standards. And we should stay in the European Food Standards Agency.

Yes, it may be that the British food and drink sector could come to benefit from substantial growth opportunities beyond the European Union. But this requires replicating all existing EU trade deals with third countries and negotiating preferential agreements with other countries.

As for EU workers, we need a deal on immigration that enables the sector to access the full range of skills it requires because the sector and the hospitality sector rely heavily on unskilled and highly-skilled EU labour to plug the existing skills gap. That could be met by British people in due course but that takes time.

The sobering analysis concludes that UK businesses need clarity and certainty about the future of our relationship with the EU and worries that time is running out for the Government to negotiate an orderly trade system after the transition that will provide businesses with the certainty they need to invest and innovate.

There may be opportunities for so-called Global Britain as time goes by but we should be aware which side of our bread is buttered and that is largely by other EU countries and many of their workers. We have a great food and drink sector which we need to preserve for future generations and, for my money, that means a close and enduring relationship with the EU, our nearest neighbour and our largest current market.
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