In 2017 the former Greek Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis aptly described the Brexit negotiations as a ‘Dog’s Brexit’ and it would appear little has changed, says Dr Derek Watson from the University of Sunderland

As Theresa May delays a Parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, a University of Sunderland academic is warning of the consequences facing a £28billion UK industry.

While fears among financial traders over Brexit’s business impact are well documented, often overlooked is the ramifications of exiting without a deal on the country’s food and drink industry.

Dr Derek Watson, an expert in the sector and senior lecturer at the University, warned today of the “huge implications” of a failure to secure a future deal with the EU.

Dr Watson said: “The food and drinks sector is a key player in the UK economy, contributing over £28bn a year. It accounts for 13% of national employment, is the UK’s largest remaining manufacturing sector, and its dependence on Europe is critical.

“A stark reality is that the UK only produces approximately half of what we eat and it is reliant on European imports for a quarter of our consumption.

“Secondly, if Parliament rejects Theresa May’s agreement with Brussels, the rights of millions of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU may be called into question in terms of free movement and rights to work.

“Such a scenario has huge implications for food and drink manufacturing, who have become heavily dependent on European migrant workers, so much so, that without them it could collapse as it employs over 3.8 million people.

“The threats of Brexit are clear and present for the food and drink sector. They face a complex conundrum in trying to devise a viable strategy, as the Brexit waters are clearly uncharted. Questions remain unresolved about what guise future trading relations will take.  

“They may have to manage within Economic Arena Arrangements, under a bilateral agreement or operate within World Trade Organisation agreements. Further unknowns, such as undefined customs borders, the renegotiation of supply chains, adjusting to legislative and regulator requirements also cloud the future.

“Equally concerning is the diminishing food and drink work force which is witnessing a slow but steady exodus of its EU employees resource base.  In response, the food and drink sector is focusing on factoring out inefficiencies while there is evidence of stock piling ingredients to buffer potential product delays and in the scoping of relocation and recruitment feasibility studies.

“Despite efforts of being proactive, the future is at best fraught with unknowns.”

On Monday the Prime Minister called off Tuesday’s crucial vote on her Brexit deal because it would be “would be rejected by a significant margin”.

She said MPs backed much of the deal she has struck with the EU but there was concern over the Northern Irish backstop.