GB-wide labelling proposal: letter to UK Government

Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the GB-wide labelling proposal from the UK Government. 

To:  The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP

From:  Mairi Gougeon

I am writing to you to set out some concerns that I have in relation to the GB-wide labelling proposal associated with the implementation of the Windsor Framework. I had planned to raise this with you in our bilateral, and I hope that we can discuss it when that is rearranged in the New Year. I also understand that a meeting with some of your junior ministers is being proposed. However, I wanted to be clear about our position at this stage.

I am aware that businesses sending certain food and drink to Northern Ireland are now obliged to comply with the terms of trade that have been agreed under the Windsor Framework. As part of this, “Not for EU” labelling now applies for certain goods sold under the Northern Ireland Retail Movement Scheme (NIRMS), and a labelling grant scheme is being set up to give financial assistance to affected businesses. Scottish Ministers consented to the legislation used to establish NIRMS, and we understand the reasons why the associated labelling provisions are required to deliver the Windsor Framework. Affected Scottish businesses will be able to access the labelling grant scheme, which is welcome.

However, I am aware that the UK Government propose that, from October 2024, obligations on labelling should apply across the UK as a whole, rather than just where required under the terms of the Windsor Framework. I have concerns about this proposal, as do Scottish stakeholders. As labelling is a wholly devolved matter, the policy decision on whether to place this additional burden on Scottish businesses should rest with the Scottish Ministers, so given the UK Government has proposed that this be GB-wide, you will appreciate why I am keen to raise it with you.

I understand that there are some concerns that businesses may choose to stop supplying to Northern Ireland, rather than set up two different labelling streams to be able to sell goods in GB as well as Northern Ireland. I also appreciate that there may be issues around potential shift of supply chains which may be a cause of concern for political parties in Northern Ireland.

However, the information that has been provided to us so far is limited and does not currently represent a convincing argument or provide any real evidence that these concerns would be realised or why this blanket measure is considered a proportionate approach. On the face of it, your proposals would impact a large number of businesses in Scotland who do not sell goods to Northern Ireland but would be required to change their labelling, or who sell into Europe and would be required to set up separate labelling streams.

I know that you intend to run a consultation in January to build the evidence base. However, if you intend to legislate by the end of March there will be extremely limited time to properly consider the responses you receive and reflect on them. I understand that there is significant opposition from businesses – if this comes out in the consultation, will the proposal be amended or withdrawn?

At a time when consumers are already bearing the burden of added food costs, arbitrarily adding costs to all businesses rather than those who trade specifically with Northern Ireland seems unnecessary. We have particular concerns about small and medium enterprises who do not have the economies of scale available to larger businesses or the ability to absorb costs. Scottish businesses have clearly indicated to me that they do not support this proposal. The Food and Drink Federation Scotland have shared briefing with us that calls for an optional labelling scheme and monitoring to ensure the Northern Ireland market continues to be well supplied, as a proportionate alternative.

I do not support this GB-wide labelling proposal as it stands, and I am not persuaded on the information provided so far that there is a case to introduce it in Scotland. I would therefore welcome a discussion with you on what that means for the proposal.

I understand that you intend to use powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (the EUWA) to introduce this measure. You will appreciate that this raises concerns for us that the UK Government may intend to legislate GB-wide in a devolved area without our consent, which would be a very serious issue. I would particularly welcome your urgent reassurances on this point. Section 8C of the EUWA is there for measures necessary to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol/Windsor Framework. We are not clear how or why this proposal fits, given that it goes beyond the Windsor Framework. Again, I would welcome your views.

I am aware that our officials are engaging regularly on this matter, which is very helpful. I look forward to meeting with you and discussing this issue in due course.


Back to top