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‘It’s absurd’ – here’s what the drinks industry is saying about the government’s no-deal Brexit plans

Cabinet ministers have approved £2 billion to go towards government departments as they “ramp up” preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

As part of these preparations, the cabinet has instructed UK businesses to begin planning for a no-deal in earnest. Ministers will send letters to 140,000 firms advising them about preparations.

The UK is scheduled to formerly leave the European Union by 29 March 2019, and despite PM Theresa May finalising a draft deal with EU officials last month, Parliament has yet to agree on terms for the country’s departure.

Businesses are being urged to pursue their own contingency plans, with a 100-page information pack set to be released this week.

The decision, which came to a head on Tuesday 18 December, has been met with concern and anger from authorities within the drinks sector.

Miles Beale, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA), said it is “absurd that we are still in a position where businesses are without clarity and confidence that the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal.”

But at the other end of the political spectrum Tim Martin, the founder of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, told the drinks business a no-deal will be “better for the UK economy and for the drinks industry.”

The SWA, meanwhile, said it is “following developments in Westminster closely.”

Click through to see what CEOs have to say about the latest Brexit update. We will keep updating this story as more comments come in.

A spokesperson for the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said that it was “following developments in Westminster closely,” and renewed its calls to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

“It is imperative that the government and parliamentarians work together constructively and quickly to find a way forward which provides clarity for businesses and employees and avoids a no-deal Brexit.”

A no-deal Brexit would damage our industry by forcing cost and complexity into the production and export of Scotch Whisky.”

WSTA chief executive Miles Beale.

Miles Beale, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA), has been actively tweeting to criticise MPs who are “glorifying” a no-deal.

The WSTA issued a statement earlier this year calling on the UK’s drinks industry to prepare for a withdrawal without a formal agreement. Following the announcement that the cabinet has been given a green light to make emergency preparations for a no-deal, Beale said the government’s position is “absurd.”

“It is absurd that we are still in a position where businesses are without clarity and confidence that the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal,” he said in an emailed statement, “and for the Government to be ordering businesses at the 11th hour to start to prepare for ‘no deal’ is too little too late.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to support out members in planning for a ‘no deal’ scenario while it is still on the cards.”

The WSTA, he said, “has campaigned consistently for a deal with the EU that delivers frictionless trade in goods, sufficient labour supply and a transition period that lasts until at least 2020.”

“A no deal scenario would cause delays at the border, restrict movement of people, exacerbate significant cashflow challenges for businesses, especially SMEs, and create massive uncertainty for both businesses and consumers – an outcome the WSTA deems totally unacceptable and unnecessary. This is exactly why the WSTA launched its #NoToNoDeal campaign.”


BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds (Photo: BBPA)

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said that uncertainty over the UK’s future trade arrangements “is not good for our members or the country.”

“The BBPA continues to work with Government on the details of what happens if we fail to reach an agreement with the EU and leave without a deal.

“There are a whole range of complicated scenarios and we will continue this work in the new year. In the meantime, we press for as much certainty as can be achieved. Uncertainty is not good for our members or the country.”

Bar and restaurant lobbying body UKHospitality said a no-deal would “exacerbate the uncertainty that businesses are currently facing.

“While there is still an opportunity to do so, we want to avoid a no deal Brexit.”

“UKHospitality has, for a number of weeks, been involved in discussions with DEFRA (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs),  to prepare for, and mitigate the impacts of, a no deal Brexit. It is only sensible that measures are developed and put in place to address possible impacts of no deal, although we are still hopeful to avoid it.”

By contrast Tim Martin, the founder and chair of pub group JD Wetherspoon and a notable Brexiteer, told the drinks business that a no-deal is “better for the UK economy and for the drinks industry.”

“It means we save £39 billion, we regain control of fishing, which is good for the economy and we can eliminate tariffs on non-EU imports, which will reduce prices in shops and pubs.

“There are over 12,000 of these hidden tariffs, which make everyone poorer. We need no other country’s permission to take these initiatives, just a vote of our MPs in parliament.

“Let’s join the free trading nations like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore – and let’s stop listening to absurd scare stories about Kent becoming a lorry park and medicines becoming unavailable.”

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