‘Brexit is the biggest peacetime challenge the UK has ever faced’

Brexit has presented itself as the biggest peacetime challenge that the UK has ever faced, according to Ian Wright, the Director General of the UK Food and Drink Federation.

Wright was speaking at Bord Bia’s seminar on Brexit in the Hilton London Paddington Hotel earlier this week, which attracted over 100 representatives from the Irish food and drink industry.

“I firmly believe that there’s hardly anybody in the country (UK) who has a pin-sharp picture of how this process will play out.”

He said that this would be a common position when country goes to war, but that it is unprecedented in peacetime.

We’re assuming that the day the UK actually leaves will be April 1, 2019. We know that it is Prime Minister Theresa May’s aspiration to leave within the first three months of 2017.

“She has to show that she’s prepared to go through with invoking Article 50 and her advisors are certain that she’ll trigger it by March 31.”

Labour challenges

Wright said that the UK will be facing serious labour challenges once it leaves the EU.

“There are 400,000 industry workers. Of these, 120,000 are non-Irish and non-UK EU citizens. One in eight companies are [already] recording people going home.

These workers can’t be replaced and very few are willing to come here to work with so much uncertainty.

Furthermore, there will be a limit on the amount of EU workers the UK will be able to take in post-Brexit, he said.

Also, he said that there is a perception out there that the food manufacturing industry is a low-skilled workforce and that a lot of time at the moment is being put into changing this perception.

Ireland and the UK

The UK is Ireland’s most important export market for food and drink, accounting for 41% of total exports or €4.4 billion per annum, accoridng to Bord Bia.

This relationship is reciprocal as Ireland, in turn, is the largest market for UK food and non-alcoholic drink, accounting for 24% of exports or £2.9 billion per annum.

The UK is a major net importer of food, with imports accounting for about one-third of consumption, it said.