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Leaving the EU: Food and Drink Industry

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018

4. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future of the UK food and drink industry after the UK leaves the EU. (904947)

5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future of the UK food and drink industry after the UK leaves the EU. (904948)

There are regular discussions between Ministers about the benefits of leaving the EU, including for the UK’s food and drink industry. We are committed to helping our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food and drink. The Government have made good progress this year on opening access to global markets, and we also have the opportunity to harness the food and drink sector’s ambitious plans for increasing exports as part of a sector deal under our industrial strategy.

Those discussions must have been the shortest in history if they were about the benefits of leaving the European Union.

This week, the chief executive of the National Farmers Union warned against selling out agriculture for simple ideology. Does not the Secretary of State accept that the unilateral decision to withdraw from the customs union and single market was based purely on ideology? When is he going to stop the platitudes and the mild assurances, and accept that that ideological decision threatens to destroy the future of agriculture in these islands?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have to say that the discussions about the benefits of leaving the EU that I undertake with my Cabinet colleagues go long into the night, often fuelled and sustained by glasses of fine Scotch whisky and smoked salmon from parts of that beautiful country. One of the things we appreciate is that the appetite for smoked salmon, whisky and Scottish and British produce is growing faster outside the European Union than it is within it.

Scotland produces some of the finest food and drink, which is exported around the world. That allows us to punch well above our weight in terms of balance of payments, and it is based on our valued Scottish brand. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to protect Scotland the brand to ensure that our reputation for quality food and drink is enhanced during and after the Brexit process?

That is a very constructive contribution, because Scotland is a very powerful brand. I mentioned whisky and smoked salmon, and it is the case that the high-quality food producers of Scotland—from those who are responsible for beef in the north-east of Scotland to those who are responsible for the wonderful organic carrots and potatoes of Aberdeenshire—are individuals who work incredibly hard, and it is my desire to champion them. That is why I am just a little bit sad that the First Minister of Scotland has decided not to collaborate with the UK Government to make sure that we have effective UK-wide frameworks so that we provide a firm platform for future exports and growth.

What are the post-Brexit prospects for exploiting the growing demand for dairy products in the middle east and south Asia?

There is growing demand for dairy products, and not just in the middle east and south Asia, as we have also had a very successful drive to increase sales of organic milk to the United States of America. Our dairy farmers do an amazing job and the opportunities for their quality products—yoghurt, cheese and others—to be sold worldwide will only increase as we leave the EU.

While acknowledging that food and drink labelling will be subject to a UK framework post-Brexit, may I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in supporting the Diabetes UK “Food Upfront” campaign to improve food labelling and introduce traffic-light systems so that people suffering with that condition can be clear about the nutritional value of pre-packaged food and drink?

My hon. Friend makes a characteristically acute point. We want to ensure not only that we produce more food, but that we produce more healthy food and help consumers to make the right choices. When we are outside the European Union, we can improve our approach on food labelling.

Food processors in my constituency export their products directly to the Republic of Ireland, straight off the production line. They fear that Brexit might require them to follow new procedures that would delay their exports, largely because of a lack of warehouse space in the Greater Manchester area. What assurances can the Secretary of State give them?

I have already met, and hope to meet again very shortly, Ministers in the Irish Government to ensure that we have a shared approach across these islands and that trade can continue to flow with as little friction as possible, but our success will require good will on every side. I therefore look forward to visiting Ireland in the week after next to talk to its Agriculture Minister and those directly involved in trade.