More meat needed on Brexit referendum
Published:  10 February, 2016

More clarity on the implications of a yes result in the impending EU referendum has been called for following rumours that it will take place this summer. 

It has been rumoured that the referendum will be held on 23 June, bringing the issue to the forefront of the industry.

Fiona Steiger, deputy director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the meat industry needed more information on the referendum and the implications of a Great Britain exit from the EU.

“Most of the meat industry’s regulations come from the EU and at the moment we have been given little or no indication about what an exit would mean for our sector,” said Steiger. “As industries go, the meat sector has one of the highest proportions of regulation that is determined by Europe, including food hygiene, labelling and compositional laws. However we are being asked to make one of the biggest decisions for decades blind.”

According to a Meat Trades Journal online poll, 43% of those surveyed believe Britain should leave the EU, 36% said Britain should stay, while 21% said they needed more information on a possible exit.

Steiger said there was a danger that the EU referendum was being treated almost exclusively as an emotional argument by campaigners from both camps, with very few facts or contingencies being presented. “There are people who will definitely be voting yes and those who are definitely voting no, but there is a large number of people who have not yet decided and it’s vital they use their vote based on the facts and not simple emotional arguments.

“We need to know what contingency plan will be in place for the day after a referendum, regardless of what the outcome will be. For example, what will be the UK’s position on all those areas currently determined by EU regulations? Will the UK come up with its own policies or simply adopt the EU regulations over which we will have no future influence? Will the UK be in the EEA or have a relationship like Switzerland or something different again?”

Steiger added that the import and export market could also be a very important area for consideration and it could be argued that it would be affected immediately after a referendum. “Any referendum, by its very nature, creates uncertainty and it is vital to understand what plans will be in place to deal with that uncertainty.”

The referendum was also discussed at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Outlook Conference earlier this week. Peter Kendall, AHDB chairman, said: “The prospect of a June referendum could mean a significant impact on trade and our industry.”

Professor Alan Matthews of Trinity College, Dublin said if there was a yes vote, the UK government would have to decide how to fill the policy vacuum in areas that the EU currently regulates and the trade relationship with EU member states would have to be negotiated.