Scotland's food and drink industry in plea for six-month Brexit 'grace period'

Scotland's food and drink industry has pleaded with the Prime Minister to grant a six-month "grace period" for new rules coming into effect when the UK's Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

A server wearing a face mask or covering due to the Covid-19 pandemic pours a pint. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
A server wearing a face mask or covering due to the Covid-19 pandemic pours a pint. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Business leaders said in a letter to Boris Johnson that after the damage done by coronavirus, they are now facing a "perilous situation" at the end of the year.

With no deal on future trading terms yet agreed between the UK and EU, the group warned Mr Johnson the "fallout from a no-deal would be catastrophic".

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Scotland's food and drink industry is worth £15 billion a year, employing 120,000 people across the country.

Industry leaders said the impact of Covid-19 has been "devastating", with the sector fearing losses in revenue of £3bn.

Now with the end of the Brexit transition period looming in less than two months, the group said it wants a six-month relaxation of the rules that will require those selling products to Europe to produce export health certificates and other certificates.

The letter to the Prime Minister has been signed by James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink; David Thomson, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, and Scott Walker, who holds the same position with the National Famers' Union Scotland.

Senior figures from groups, including Quality Meat Scotland, Seafood Scotland, the Scottish Wholesale Association and the Scottish Salmon Producers Association, have also put their names to it.

They all argue that negotiating a six-month grace period must now be a "top priority" for the UK Government to help businesses adjust to the new rules.

The letter states while this "was ultimately what the transition period was meant to do", there are still a "number of unanswered questions around trading arrangements after December 31".

It says: "A six-month grace period would enable businesses to trade with the new rules, but without fear of significant border disruption, enforcement action and loss of further revenue.

"Most critically for Scotland is the need for a six-month derogation from the requirement to produce export health certificates (EHCs) and other export certification including haulage permits.

"To be clear, there is no system available that can cope with the increased demand in EHCs likely to be required from January 1."

Mr Johnson has been urged to "bring forward a package of financial compensation for producers, processors, manufacturers and distributors who encounter loses as a direct result of border or market disruption".

The group suggested this should last for an initial period of three months, but could be reviewed afterwards.

It also wants the UK Government to "finalise operational arrangements for enabling the smooth passage for seafood consignments across the Channel".

The letter tells the Prime Minister: "With less than 60 days until the UK enters into new historic trading arrangements, time is not on our side and there is an enormous task that lies ahead to get businesses ready and support them through the coming months.” A UK Government spokesman said: "British food and drink is some of the best in the world, and leaving the EU means we can take advantage of the growing global demand for great British produce."We are making significant preparations to prepare for the guaranteed changes at the end of the transition period.”

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