New report claims
A new report has been issued by the National Audit Office, or NAO. In it, they warned that the food industry is going to be particularly at risk in the case of a no-deal scenario.
The report stated that, “without a significant increase in the UK’s veterinary capacity, Defra will be unable to process the increased volume of export health certificates it expects if there is no deal.”
While there have been plans to increase the number of vets employed in food jobs to do with the supply chain, these plans have been delayed – and NAO expects that this is going to cause problems down the line.
The report goes on to say: “To achieve the required capacity, Defra [the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] needed to provide the market with sufficient notice and certainty about the scale of the increased capacity required. It had programmed this work to start in April 2018 but, by September 2018, the Government had not yet authorised Defra to start engaging publicly with the veterinary market.
“If there are not enough vets, consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK. If there is still a significant likelihood of no deal being reached in October 2018, Defra is planning to launch an emergency recruitment campaign to bring capacity at least part-way towards the minimum level required. Defra told us it is confident that it will be able to fill any remaining gaps, for example through the use of non-veterinarians to check records and processes that do not require veterinary judgment.”
Need for action
The NAO pointed out that Defra would need to introduce UK equivalents for a total of 1,400 different versions of the current certificates in use in the EU, if no deal was reached. On top of that, those certificates would then need to be agreed upon with each of 154 different countries individually. It sounds like a mammoth task, and one that would take a lot of time to complete.
The NAO agrees with this prognosis, and has expressed concern that there is no reality in which Defra will be able to complete this work by March 2019. If it is unable to make it happen, then food which is about to cross the border into the EU – or out of the UK to one of the other countries with which new agreements need to be made – will have to be held and stopped until it can be passed with the correct certification. This kind of delay could be extremely costly, both for the companies that are purchasing the meat as well as for the farmers and businesses that export them.
There is sure to be a huge food recruitment drive in the run-up to Brexit, whether we achieve a deal or not. Firstly, many migrant workers have been left unsure about their status, and may choose to work elsewhere when the season comes – meaning that we might be left with a shortage of manual and production line workers. Secondly, we have many higher-up professionals within specialist fields such as veterinarians, who hail from the EU and are not classed as UK citizens. For them, plenty of complications may arise – which they could try to avoid by simply going home.