“If you want to know what happens when a country leaves the European Union, you might as well ask the Inuit.” That was the BBC’s Brian Milligan being simultaneously flippant and factual last month (factual, because Greenland is the only other country ever to have left the EU – or the EEC as it was then). Milligan’s real point, of course, is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Governor of the Bank of England or the bloke down the pub – nobody knows what the long-term outcome of the EU Referendum will be.
Part of the ritual of major political events is that individuals and organizations are obliged to react to them. In the age of Twitter and WhatsApp this now happens in real time – and it was on social media that we saw the first reaction from people in our industry. One thing was immediately clear, the EU Referendum divided opinion in the natural and organic sector, just as it did in the country. There are passionate Leavers among our ranks (some of whose views will have been shaped by personal experience of dealing with the raft of EU health product regulations). But there are also many equally passionate Remainers – particularly inside the cooperative movement, with its strong tradition of internationalism. Emotions travel from “ecstatic” to “furious”.
The reaction from industry organizations has been more guarded and necessarily pragmatic. However the Soil Association says it is “very disappointed” by the Brexit vote, which it believes could weaken environment regulation and open the door to widescale GM crop cultivation. The HFMA says it expects little in the way of immediate changes, and is urging a period of “calm reflection” rather than “hasty decisions”. The NAHS, meanwhile, is urging the UK Government to free small business of red tape and the “burdensome” regulation of natural health products.
The most detailed examination of possible impacts on the natural health sector has come from the Alliance for Natural Health. Applying a SWOT analysis technique it identifies an opportunity to create a “world leading legislative framework”. But in the ‘threats’ column it raises concerns that the UK could be vulnerable to trade deals that would be like “TTIPs on steroids”.
So, as we wave goodbye to years of uncertainty over the prospect of an in-out referendum, we say hello to a whole new level of uncertainty after it.