What Brexit means for business

Number one: “Brexit means Brexit.” Those were the words of the new prime minister, Theresa May. There have been quite a few changes in the past eight weeks and, if we’re honest, it’s been a struggle keeping up.

Leave won the referendum – 51.9% to 48.1% (number 2). Unsurprisingly it made David Cameron sad, so much so that he decided to leave No 10. At first he was prepared to steady the ship, but then he decided it was better to jump straight away.

So it was goodbye to the leader of the greenest government ever. Or good riddance if you were Boris Johnson. Or so everyone thought. But while it was highly entertaining hoodwinking millions into voting for Brexit, dealing with the fallout won’t be nearly as much fun (a conclusion that Nigel Farage has also come to).

And, after a brief and eventful “contest”, May became leader of the Conservative party and PM by default. May has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change (number 3) and she’s also installed Andrea “is climate change real?” Leadsom as her environment secretary. She also moved to demolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Not the best start, perhaps. MPs have already demanded assurances that
in the wake of Brexit the government will maintain environmental protection measures currently guaranteed by EU law. There was better news when the government backed the Committee on Climate Change’s fifth carbon budget (number 4).

The budgets act as stepping stones towards the target of 80% reduction by 2050 as set out in the Climate Change Act. Many experts have argued that EU policies have been good for the UK’s environmental performance, but at least we have a national law to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether the targets are met is another issue. The new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (number 5) will certainly have its work cut out, especially if May has told Greg Clark, the business and energy secretary, to continue stripping back green policies.

Over at DEFRA, Leadsom will surely have her work cut out appeasing farmers concerned about leaving the golden goose that is the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. It won’t be enough that she wants to kill foxes and cull badgers.

Speaking of culls, her department has been at the centre of a big one. DEFRA’s core staff have been slashed by two-thirds over the past decade (number 6). With further cuts planned, new policies will be few and far between.

Amid all the comings and goings, Jeremy Hunt managed to keep his job (number 7). Still, May isn’t quite sure that the health secretary’s childhood obesity strategy (micromanaged by Cameron) is quite up to scratch. Campaigners who caught sight of a leaked draft in July tend to agree. “Pathetic” was Action on Sugar’s reaction.

The tax on sugary drinks, pilloried by industry, had given health campaigners a taste of victory. Much like a can of Coke, the high was short-lived. Indeed, the Food and Drink Federation says Brexit means no sugar tax (number 8).

There is too much economic uncertainty to be implementing new red tape,
so the argument goes. Access to labour is, of course, a biggie for the food industry. Up and down the supply chain, businesses are reliant on migrant workers, so a quota or bar on immigration will mean employment models have to change (number 9).

It’s unlikely that there will be dramatic changes to labour laws, especially if the European Union grants us continued access to the single market. Ditto food safety. If that’s not the case then there could be a large legislative gap to plug (number 10). Rules on the claims food companies make in marketing and on packs could be relaxed.

There will still be advertising rules, though. The same can’t be said for political advertising, which allowed both sides of the referendum campaign to get carried away. But we are where we are, so the next six pages cover some
of the major issues and opportunities facing those in the foodservice and hospitality sectors.

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