Exporters fear Brexit will result in ‘catastrophic embargo’ on food products


The food industry says it fears a “complete and catastrophic embargo” on exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit after the government admitted it had yet to apply for vital regulatory clearance required for selling animal products to the European Union.

“Listed status” is required for countries outside the EU wishing to export live animals and animal products to the bloc and can take as long as six months to secure.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was “confident” the EU would agree that the UK meets the necessary health and biosecurity standards but, with only nine weeks until Britain is due to leave the union, declined to say when officials might apply.

Listed status was previously granted shortly before Britain’s last “no deal” deadline in April, five months after the government made an application to the European Commission. The status lapsed after a Brexit delay to October 31 was agreed.

Industry groups expressed their shock that Boris Johnson’s government, which has presented itself as being much better prepared for a potential no-deal Brexit than Theresa May’s, has yet to make a fresh application.

Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “Securing third country listing should be a no-brainer, not least since so many agri-food exports wouldn’t be allowed into the EU without it.

“As the clock winds down, many of these things risk being caught up in the politics of negotiation so we are disappointed this hasn’t yet been squared away to put traders’ minds at ease.”

In October, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee warned Michael Gove, then environment secretary, that without listed status, “all animal exports could be halted for months” with “catastrophic” consequences for Britain’s food industry.

The Food and Drink Federation noted that the previous status had been granted for nine months on the basis of the UK agreeing to align itself to certain rules and standards.

A spokesman for the group said: “In our discussions with government, we have raised the point that if we diverge from the EU’s standards then there is a serious possibility that come October, listed status will not be granted. This scenario would seriously threaten the success of UK food and drink exports, which were worth more than £22 billion last year.”

A spokeswoman for Defra said: “The European Commission previously voted to list the UK as a third country ahead of our potential exit from the EU in April 2019.

“Given the change in date for our exit from the EU, a further vote is required ahead of October 31. However, we are confident the UK will continue to meet the requirements.”

When pressed on whether the government had requested listed status, she admitted: “We haven’t reapplied yet.”

While waiting for its previous application to be approved, the government said it could not “be certain of the EU response or its timing”.

Nick von Westenholz, director of EU exit and international trade at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “We hope that the government will again secure approved status ahead of October, which will avoid a complete and catastrophic embargo on animal products being exported to the EU.”

The NFU also warned that zero-rate duties on eggs and dairy products from overseas could have a “massive impact” on agricultural producers’ profitability by flooding the UK with cheap imports.

“Government must act now to address our concerns and revise the tariff regime to try and lessen the significant damage which a no-deal would inflict on the UK farming sector,” Minette Batters, president of the NFU, said.