Unite, the UK’s largest union, has discovered the government is suppressing information on expected changes in food prices as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.
The refusal to publish the report increases concerns that when the UK leaves the EU there will be a sharp increase in prices and possible food shortages, which will have massive implications for both consumers and workers in the food industry.
Unite, the largest union representing food, drink and agriculture workers, made a freedom of information request to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and asked: “What assessment or estimate has been made of the increase in food prices in the run up to the UK leaving the European Union and the first five years after the UK’s departure.”
Defra replied: “The information requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemption in section 35 of the FOIA, which relates to the formulation and development in government policy.”
Unite has appealed against the decision to withhold the information arguing that the public interest test of publishing the report outweighs the government’s desire to suppress the report while the UK “is formulating its negotiating position with the EU”. If the internal review is rejected then Unite will appeal further to the Information Commissioners Office.
Aside from the effects on consumers any increase in prices is likely to have a major effect on the UK’s food industry which currently employs over three million workers.
An increase in food costs is also likely to have an effect on the inflation rate which will further impact on living standards and the overall health of the economy.
The National Farmers Union has previously warned that as the UK only produces 60 per cent of its own food and if imports became unavailable the UK would run out of food by 6 August each year.
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 would result in shortages.
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Julia Long, said: “The government is pulling the wool over the eyes of the public yet again. What is it hiding?
“If the government knows that Brexit is going to affect food prices, then it needs to tell the general public and not pretend that there isn’t a problem.
“The type of Brexit that the UK chooses will clearly have major implications on the nations shopping basket and we need to know what those factors will be.”
“Unite will do everything it can to ensure that this report is published and will hope that other individuals and organisations with similar concerns will also apply pressure for this information to see the light of day.”
The secretary of state at Defra is Michael Gove MP who was a leading member of the 'Leave' campaign.
Notes for editors:
The full response to Unite’s freedom of information request:
What assessment or estimate has been made of the increase in food prices in the run up to the UK leaving the European Union and the first five years after the UK’s departure?
The information requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemption in section 35 of the FOIA, which relates to the formulation and development of government policy.
In applying this exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure.
We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of information concerning the increase in food prices in the run up to the UK leaving the European Union and the first five years after the UK’s departure. However, there is a strong public interest in withholding the information, in this instance. At this early stage 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. Defra’s EU Exit policy development work is ongoing. We consider that premature disclosure of information could seriously mislead the public and is not in the public interest. In the meantime, however, Defra will continue to monitor food prices
Therefore, we have concluded that, in all the circumstances of the case, the information should be withheld.
For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.