A food and beverage boss has described preparing for Brexit in the middle of a pandemic like “an assault on people’s headspace”.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, told a Commons committee on his industry faces a triple whammy of financial hardship if Downing Street proceeds forward with leaving the EU on December 31.
Wright described that Covid-19, a downturn in Christmas sales, and trade chaos caused by Brexit would spell turmoil for many businesses.
Responding to a question on the “cumulative impact” coronavirus and the end of the Brexit transition period would have on the industry, Wright said: “I do think there are two separate ways of looking at this with one being the absolutely assault on people’s headspace.
“Having to negotiate Brexit, Covid-19, and in the case of the food and drinks industry, the Christmas rush, altogether – the toll it takes on our staff and our colleagues is really enormous.
He described the industry facing loses of up to 80pc of profits due to the downturn of sales between Halloween and Chinese New Year, which is one of the busiest periods in the year.
“So the financial toll of Covid is enormous at this time of year,” he said, “and the cumulative toll is the same as everybody else in the country; it has been just the most enormous, difficult period both financially and mentally for our teams.
“To layer on top of that, the Brexit uncertainty, with just 14 working days to go, we have no clue what’s going to happen in terms of whether we do or don’t face tariffs.
“That isn’t just a big imposition, it’s a binary choice on whether you’ll do business in most cases so, my members will not know whether they’re exporting their products after January 1 or whether they’ll be able to afford to import them.”
He described the situation in Northern Ireland as being “much worse”.
“I have to say, the Northern Ireland Protocol is a complete shambles and the idea that you can prepare for something as big as the change that’s going to happen; that is to say everyone doing business in Northern Ireland is, in effect, exporting to the EU – many for the first time – is ridiculous.
“It’s a massive toll. Financially it’s a big imposition but I think the biggest concern is the level of confusion and chaos we potentially face.”