Liz Truss is campaigning as a committed Brexiter to become Conservative leader. Six years ago, her view was different. She was then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. On May 16, 2016, five weeks before the Brexit referendum, she delivered a speech, which can be viewed on YouTube, to the Food and Drink Federation’s annual dinner at the Hilton Hotel in London’s Park Lane. Her support for an “In” vote was plainly wholehearted. Her analysis was clear and, as events have shown, correct.
Truss spoke without notes; DEFRA did not release the text of her speech. As far as I can tell, what follows is the first full transcript to be provided of her remarks that evening about Britain and the EU.
I do think that the decision on the 23rd of June will probably have a greater impact on the food and drink industry than it would have on any other part of the economy. That’s because if we look at trade, the food and drink the industry exports, 60 per cent of all its products to the EU. If we look at particular areas, like lamb, 40 per cent of all the lamb that is produced here in the UK goes into the EU market. That represents 97 per cent of lamb exports.
Now why is that? Well, it’s because we have the Single Market. And what we know is that countries outside the Single Market, whether it’s the US, where I was recently, or whether it’s China, still don’t allow quite a lot of our fantastic British foodstuffs into those markets. And of course, the great British Food Unit is working to get entry for new products.
But that is why that EU market is so precious; because we share the same regulations, we share the same rules over things like food safety, over animal health and welfare – over bottles – and the whisky industry and I have been doing a bit of a UK tour recently. And the whisky industry will tell you how important it is, that because we share those regulations over bottling and labelling, they can simply export their products to Paris just as easily as they can sell them in a supermarket in Preston.
Now if we were to leave that EU Single Market, what that would mean is that those products would face additional costs in getting them into markets. In some case that would mean that some markets close. Now a lot of people say to me, “But surely the European Union won’t close it’s markets.” Well, it’s recently that of course the French closed its markets to UK beef, and we had to fight in the European Court of Justice to get British beef back on French menus. Because there is a policing mechanism in the European Single Market to make sure that if a product is complying with those European rules that we’ve all agreed, that we are able to sell it. That is a very important message.
This campaign has been dominated by some strong statements, some quite major warnings, but what I think is really important is that we get the message across to people – that’s the people in your companies, it’s the people that we all work with, it’s the people in the entire food chain, which employs a massive amount of people across this country, that we get the message across that just how difficult it would become to do business.
If we were a country like Norway, we’d have to fill in 50 boxes on a form every time we wanted to export something. In products such as agricultural products, there’s a regime of quotas and tariffs. I know how difficult it is getting products into markets like the US and China. DEFRA has just had to fill in a thousand-page form, which is one part of an eight-stage process to get British beef and lamb. And we still have to get a resolution passed by Congress to get that British lamb into the market.
So I think we’ve got to be very careful about taking that Single Market for granted and being outside that Single Market. The Single Market isn’t something like a sexy, exciting thing to explain; but it’s really crucial to the amount of growth we’ve seen in food and drink exports over the past forty years. It is really crucial to that.
The second point I want to make is about investment. Now I’ve just been over in the US, talking to some of our major investors. We’ve got some of our major investors in the UK economy here in this room. Companies like Nestle, Mondelez, putting huge amounts of research, expertise, of capital and machinery into our economy, improving the productivity of our food and drink sectors, which is so vital; and I’m delighted that the Food and Drink Federation is focussing on productivity. We know that’s a challenge for the UK economy.
Now the reason that many of those investors want to invest in the UK market is because we have access to 500 million consumers. Yes, the UK is a hotbed of innovation, but we are also a passport into that wider market. Now I’ve spoken to many investors who are saying that they would be concerned if they invested in the UK, whether it’s in R &D, whether it’s in capital to improve our productivity, whether it’s in new production, and I want to see more investment in areas like dairy processing capacity – I think we’ve got massive potential here in the UK. They would worry about whether or not those investments continue to have access to that Single Market.
And the Out campaign has been very clear. They’ve said that they don’t want to be part of the Single Market. I think that’s a real worry for investment, and I do want to see more capital investment in food and farming. And what I would say to you is that there are some people in this room who have said to me, “Yes, we are concerned about this, but we don’t necessarily want to take a position.” I can understand that as businesses. But I do think it’s in all of our interests to communicate the real impact on the ground – the real impact that this would have on jobs, on livelihoods; because what we know is that less trade would mean fewer investments, it would mean fewer jobs, and that will feed through to people’s incomes.
That doesn’t just affect you and me in this room. It affects all of us in the overall economy. So if you’re in a company that doesn’t export, the company that does export will be buying less of your services; and I think that’s a message we’ve really got to get across in the closing weeks of this campaign. But I’ve got great faith in the British people. I think the British people are sensible people. They understand fundamentally that economically Britain would be better off staying in a reformed EU. I’m very grateful for the Food and Drink Federation publicly coming out and saying that. Of course, the National Farmers Union have also come out and said that. I think getting that message across is really important in the next few weeks.
But what I want to do is, following what, I hope, is an In vote, is for what we can do next is to bring this industry up to the next level, to really make sure this industry, the biggest manufacturing industry in our economy, an industry with huge potential, because we know the demand for food is growing across the world, we know the demand for high quality, innovative food is growing across the world.