Leaving the EU: Food and Drink Standards

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 12:00 am, 18th October 2018

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on maintaining food and drink standards after the UK has left the EU.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

DEFRA is working closely with the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the regulatory regime for food and drink standards and safety remains robust as the UK leaves the European Union, in order to continue protecting the public and retaining the confidence of consumers, businesses and trading partners overseas. The Secretary of State meets Cabinet colleagues on a weekly basis, when discussions take place on the future relationship the UK will have with the EU.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

The National Audit Office’s report on DEFRA’s readiness for Brexit says that the Department

“will be unable to process the increased volume of export health certificates” on current capacity and that

“consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK.”

Ports will be gridlocked and the quality produce of Scottish farmers will not reach its foreign markets. There is a spreadsheet to take the place of the EU’s TRACES system—how does the Minister intend to fix this by March?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

The NAO report also highlighted that there is a high degree of readiness within DEFRA. We have recruited 1,300 people to take this work forward. In my role as Minister with responsibility for food, I am working very closely with others to ensure that we will move on all these issues, whether vets or preparations at the borders.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

At the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, we heard from DEFRA officials about preparedness for Brexit, and we are very concerned. One of the biggest concerns is that many businesses do not know what they will have to do to comply with the rules around Brexit. What is the Minister doing to make sure that real effort is going into telling those companies and businesses how they should be preparing?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The Government have been setting out technical notices to explain more about what needs to be done in readiness for a no deal scenario. Yesterday, along with the Secretary of State, I met the Food and Drink Sector Council. We are working hard to increase engagement with businesses on the back of those technical notices.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

This year we saw the highest-quality fruit and veg grown on these islands rotting in the fields because there were not enough workers to pick them. Yesterday the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee said that the fruit and veg sector would shrink if its policies were followed—that would mean farmers going out of business. Does the Minister agree with him that that is a price worth paying, or does he agree with me that ending freedom of movement is a huge mistake?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

I am not sure that that really fits in with the question, but an important pilot is being taken forward on seasonal workers to address the issues that the hon. Lady raises.