The fact that food was not being talked about in the Brexit debate was a political failure said Professor Tim Lang, introducing the 2015 City University Food Symposium on the topic.
Professor Alan Swinbank outlined four broad possible scenarios post Brexit, reduced from a long list of eleven:
- More highly protected agriculture with a self-sufficiency objective
- Freer trade
- Recreate the status quo
- Some tweaking to enhance environmental credentials
Any free trade area negotiated with the EU was unlikely to be a simple deal. Internal market rules and geographical indications would have to be respected.
Peter Backman of Horizons FS said that what was distinctive about food service industries and catering was that they relied - and he emphasised the word relied - on migrants.
Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation said any impact on access to imports would have a detrimental effect on business. We would cut ourselves off from the talent pool in the EU when the industry had a skills gap of 100,000 workers. He predicted that the UK would break up in a post-Brexit world.
Martin Haworth, acting director-general of the NFU, said that agriculture had 34,513 full-time employees from outside the UK. The EU did lead to some inappropriate or disproportionate regulation. Legislation was the price of single market access.
Kate Trollope of EU Food Policy said that as a third country, EU approval would be required of manufacturing and processing plants in the UK. Border inspections could lead to time delays. There would also be import fees.
David Baldock of the IEEP said that it would be difficult to envisage the Treasury requiring anything other than significant cuts in payments to agriculture. The exit scenario was not one for the UK to dictate, it had to be negotiated.
Former civil servant Andrew Jarvis warned, 'If you are not at the table, you are not on the menu.'
Polls taken showed that those in the room overwhelmingly favoured staying in the EU, whilst the latest opinion polls show public opinion evenly split.