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Brexit or no Brexit?

"Politicians need to go and have a good look in the mirror at what they are doing"

Today sees the UK's Prime Minister back in Europe trying to salvage something of her Brexit deal. She will meet with Dutch PM Mark Rutte and Germany's Angela Merkel after postponing a Commons vote on the deal yesterday.

According to other media, yesterday's vote was going to be defeated and opposition politicians called it an act of cowardice to save her own job. 

The Brexit secretary said policy "had not changed" despite a European court ruling the UK could cancel Brexit without permission from the other 27 EU members.

Right from the start Brexit has caused much uncertainty in the fresh produce sector, both from UK importers and European exporters; no one really knew what was going to happen. This morning the uncertainty within the sector has increased and a sense of disbelief has been added.

Nigel Jenney from the Fresh Produce Consortium said that unless another viable solution was found before the end of March the UK would default out of Europe with no deal whatsoever. "The government must get it sorted urgently, this ongoing uncertainty is not good, businesses must have clarity. 

Rob Cullum from Pacific Produce, who's company imports most of its produce from South America said, "No one has any idea what is going to happen which makes it very difficult to prepare any scenarios. Politicians need to go and have a good look in the mirror at what they are doing. All you can do is look at your own company and make some 'what if' contingencies.

"We need to look at the short, mid and long-term. I personally think everything will be okay in the end, but there will be a tough few years till we get there. If the ports are congested, we will have to go through other ports, if we need more customs staff we will have to hire them or change the priority for checking goods coming into the country, but there will be an economical impact for a number of years for sure.

"Pacific Produce are relatively lucky in that we ship most of our products via container and have our own farms. It will be the smaller importers and those who rely on road transport from Europe who will suffer the most. There may be increased tariffs introduced, initially the standard WTO tariff is 10%, but that will be across the board, this will affect the prices on the shelves but not by the whole 10%, there may also be less goods brought into the UK.

"Could we get a better deal? I don't think anyone truly knows exactly what the deal is or was, but I do think everyone is doing the best they can to come to a good compromise." 

Steve Maxwell from Worldwide Fruit said they would keep working the same way until something changes. "The type of fruit we deal in, [avocados and apples and pears], means we can carry more stock to get us through particular issues, it will be the guys who deal in perishables like salads or strawberries who will suffer. But there is the knock-on effects such as storage issues and to make sure there is no reduction in quality.

"I think I will still be buying the same things from the same people but there may be some different ways in which we work. Tariffs would be an extra cost and there is an expectation that our currency will get worse which would increase costs and if the products take longer to get to you there will be additional logistics costs and extra storage also means extra costs, we will have to wait and see how it goes but I can't see any savings.

"We have to be very transparent and also recognise what changes will impact on which costs. In this business things are always changing, this is just another change.

National Farmer's Union
At an extraordinary meeting of the NFU’s Council on Monday evening, six principles that will guide the NFU in its aim to deliver the best outcome from Brexit for British farmers were agreed.

Commenting on these principles, NFU President Minette Batters said: “The NFU is deeply frustrated and disappointed that nearly two and half years after the referendum we are no closer to finding out the details of our future relationship with the EU and what trading environment we could be operating under in the future.  

“We are due to leave the EU in 16 weeks’ time. It is absolutely unacceptable for agriculture to be left with this level of uncertainty. We have repeatedly said that a no deal scenario would be catastrophic for farming, but political events today have created further doubt and uncertainty. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting this right for farming.

“The NFU has been clear today about what it believes are the crucial elements of a healthy and productive post-Brexit future for British farming. 

“We are hopeful that policy-makers on both sides of the channel will come to a workable solution as a matter of urgency.

“It is crucial that the Government ensures our high standards of food safety and production are not undermined by lower standard imports from elsewhere in the world.

Six principles to deliver best Brexit outcome for British farmers