Farming Minister Victoria Prentis has apologised to the business community for the uncertainty over future trading arrangements with the EU.
Ms Prentis said Defra had already had ‘several trial runs’ of a no-deal Brexit and had systems in place to tackle the most difficult problems, but pointed out officials would be much happier if they knew whether there was an agreement or not.
“It is unfortunate we do not yet have a deal, but I think we have done everything we possibly can to mitigate that,” the Minister told attendees of the AIC Agribusiness 2021 virtual conference.
“It is not great, and I am very sorry to people who are trying to run businesses which export or import in these circumstances, I really am.”
NFU president Minette Batters, who was also speaking at the conference, said it was ‘pretty terrifying’ that the UK is just seven weeks away from the end of the transition period and still has no idea whether a deal with the EU will be reached.
Robert Sheasby, AIC chief executive, warned business had no option but to plan for no deal in the absence of any clear signals that an agreement will be achieved.
And he took a swipe at Treasury and Cabinet Office Minister Lord Agnew, who accused businesses of taking a ‘head in the sand approach’ to post-Brexit planning.
“AIC has been clear in submitting questions to Defra, to the Department for International Trade and to Cabinet Office seeking clarification [on many issues],” he said.
“While in some cases we have had answers, there regrettably remain many instances where we are still waiting.
“So when Ministers comment business has had its head in the sand on EU exit readiness, I know this is not the case.”