The BRC wrote to both official EU referendum campaigns challenging them to address the issues considered of most direct interest to the industry.
The letters asked both sides to make clear what their views would be on three key issues: the ease and cost of moving products across borders; the regulatory framework for retail operations; and the viability of local food supply chains.
While the BRC is neither advocating to remain nor leave the EU, our intention is to inform the debate so that the public can make an informed choice.
The Stronger In campaign has responded to our questions, which I will share with you now.
Influence and trade
On trade, we asked what Stronger In believed that the EU can and should do to reverse the EU’s trend toward protectionism and ensure a more open global trading environment.
They said they want to ensure Britain retains its strong influence in EU trade negotiations in order to advance the interest of businesses and push for free trade. Reference is also made to the significance of the US/EU free trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Stronger In added that the UK would miss out on the benefits of such ambitious deals if we left the EU, as Britain would lose access to all our current free-trade agreements.
On the regulatory framework for retail operations, we asked how Stronger In believed the EU will ever be able to deliver well-founded, proportionate and timely regulation.
Their response rebuffed criticism of the EU for over-regulation and noted that regulation has in fact fallen for all EU countries, including the UK, since 1998.
It is true that there are varying estimates of how much legislation actually originates in Brussels and, in many areas, the UK has actually gone beyond EU requirements and introduced its own burdensome regulation.
Stronger In make the case that Britain’s influence in the EU on red tape and business regulation is vital, particularly now that the European Commission has made cutting business regulation one of its priorities.
This influence, they claim, would be lost if we left the EU, yet we would still have to adhere to EU regulations in order to trade within the single market.
Food supply chain
On food supply chains, we wanted to understand how Stronger In believed the EU’s support regimes for agriculture could change to enable innovation and allow UK farmers to become internationally competitive.
They said the EU will invest around £22 billion in the UK agriculture and rural sector in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding between 2014 and 2020. This includes over £18 billion in direct payments to farmers.
A report in October 2015 by independent analysts Agra Europe concluded that the industry in its present form is dependent on these EU subsidies and, therefore, if we left the EU only the top 10% of UK farmers could survive.
The National Farmers’ Union Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union agree that despite the preference of farmers to operate independently of the EU’s financial support, it simply isn’t realistic. Their view for now is that, in the absence of alternative support measures being proposed by Brexit advocates, farming will fare better financially in the EU.
I hope this has shed some light on what Stronger In thinks on these issues that are important to our industry and we look forward to sharing Vote Leave’s response with you when we’ve received it.
- Helen Dickinson is chief executive of the British Retail Consortium