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Food businesses stress dangers of ‘hard Brexit’

Businesses across the food supply chain have joined forces to warn the government against the risks of a ‘hard Brexit’ for the UK’s food and farming competitiveness.

In a letter to The Times, the group that includes Sainsbury’s, Apetito, Dairy Crest and Cargill among 75 organisations called on Prime Minister Theresa May to prioritise tariff-free access to the single market and continued access to migrant labour in any post-Brexit settlement.

The group also called for assurances that EU citizens already working in the UK would be allowed to remain following Brexit, noting that access to seasonal and permanent employees from overseas was essential to the effective functioning of the food supply chain.

They pledged support for a bold and ambitious vision for the sector post-Brexit, but added that food security, food safety and hygiene, stewardship of the countryside and affordable food would be put at risk if ministers failed to deliver continued access to labour and the best possible single market access.

The letter argued that a Brexit settlement which recognised the critical role of the UK food chain would demonstrate how Brexit could be beneficial for the UK economy as well as UK food production.

“Agriculture is a litmus-test for the government’s Brexit negotiations,” said Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU, which coordinated the letter. “As the sector most heavily impacted by the referendum outcome, if the government can make British farming a success post-Brexit then it will be the clearest indication that the country can succeed outside Europe.”