Whitehall accused of ‘suppressing’ Brexit food price report

28 September 2017

The UK’s largest trade union has accused the government of suppressing a report on the impact of Brexit on food prices. 

Unite said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) rejected its Freedom of Information (FoI) request to release the findings of a report on how much food prices will rise over the next five years. 

In DEFRA’s response to Unite, the government department, which is headed by veteran cabinet minister Michael Gove, said it was in the public interest to keep the information confidential while the UK prepares to negotiate its exit from the EU.

“There is a strong public interest in withholding the information, in this instance. At this early state of the policy process, where the UK is formulating its negotiating position with the EU, a public authority needs a safe space to formulate policy effectively and to ensure the information it is preparing is timely and accurate,” it said.

“We consider that premature disclosure of information could seriously mislead the public and is not in the public interest.”

Unite has appealed the decision to withhold the information arguing that the public interest test of publishing the report outweighs the desire for the government’s “safe space” to develop policy. 

This week, the UK food industry warned that if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal, it would have to introduce a new inspection regime, which would result in food imports being delayed and shortages. 

The National Farmers Union previously warned that as the UK only produces 60% of its own food and if imports became unavailable, the UK would run out of food by 6 August each year.

Julia Long, Unite’s national officer for Food, Drink and Agriculture, said the union would keep pushing for the report to be published and urged individuals and organisations with similar concerns to also apply pressure on the government. 

“If the government knows that Brexit is going to affect food prices, then they need to tell the general public and not pretend that there isn’t a problem,” she said.

“The type of Brexit that the UK chooses will clearly have major implications on the nation’s shopping basket and we need to know what those factors will be.”

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