Brexit offers an opportunity to end the EU’s damaging sugar policy

Brexit offers an opportunity to end the EU’s damaging sugar policy

Back in December of last year I launched a campaign to highlight the golden opportunity that Brexit presented to our business. You can find out more about the campaign here. I couldn’t resist the play on words with our most famous and sticky product – Lyle’s Golden Syrup. But there is a serious point to the campaign.

Firstly, let me explain what the campaign isn’t about. The campaign isn’t some anti-EU swipe. Down here at our factory in East London we’re not anti-European. It’s also not some cunning plan to undermine UK beet sugar producers with “cheap” cane sugar from Brazil.

What the campaign is about is highlighting that Brexit will allow the UK Government to do something successive governments have always fought for in Brussels but never been able to deliver. That goal is creating a policy environment that allows beet sugar and cane sugar to compete on a level playing field.

Bad EU sugar policy currently means that beet sugar in Europe is cheap, aided in 10 of the 19 member states that grow it by over €170 million a year of EU subsidy. Further pressure will come in October 2017 when EU beet producers are deregulated. Both push prices down. And the problem is that EU sugar policy doesn’t allow us as cane sugar refiners to compete. It limits who we can buy raw cane sugar from and, in many cases, charges us huge tariffs. These push our costs up. So I am not trying to argue for “cheap” sugar. I am trying to argue for a level playing field between beet and cane so that our business can compete fairly in what is already very competitive market.

So why the campaign? The answer is simple. I want our voice to be heard. I want the 850 people whose jobs depend on our ability to compete fairly to have the best chance of being able to do that. I don’t want to look back in coming years and say I wish I had done more. And I will do everything I can to highlight the opportunity to policy-makers in what will surely be a crowded space.

I used to spend two or three days a week in Brussels. It was desperate stuff. I would meet hundreds of policy-makers, MEPs, and officials. The result was always the same. They would sympathise with the intellectual rigour of our argument but politely explain that nothing was possible as their interest is with the majority: the beet sugar producers in 19 member states. One Commission official went as far to say that if our business closed then that was a result of “democracy”.

But all of that can now change. Brexit means that the UK Government will be taking these decisions in future. Of course those decisions will not just be about us. They will also need to take in to account the interests of others in the UK sugar industry, including UK beet sugar producers. But the chance to have that debate in Westminster, where the legitimate interests of the UK will be the main focus, and not the interests of beet sugar producers elsewhere in the EU, presents a lifeline to the 850 people that work here.

I am pleased to report that so far the attitude in Westminster seems quite different to that in Brussels. Politicians, officials and other policy makers are genuinely interested. They want to know how they can do something about it. And they want to help.

So my hope is that our campaign won’t be viewed as some sort of anti-EU rhetoric. And it won’t be viewed as some sort of crusade for “cheap” sugar at the expense of others. But it will be viewed for what it is a genuine opportunity for the UK to make good one of the most biased EU policies that discriminated against a UK interest.

There is certainly lots that is good about the EU. But its sugar policy certainly isn’t. I hope that our campaign flags one of the easiest and quickest wins for the UK that can be achieved from day 1 of us exiting the EU.