LONDON — Christmas 2017 in Britain.
An opportunity for families to come together, exchange gifts, eat, drink, be merry and then get down to the really important bit: arguing about Brexit over Christmas dinner.
The Archbishop of Canterbury called for a “cease-fire” from the insults and “pejorative terms” that have come to characterize the Brexit debate in the 18 months since the EU referendum. We suspect he is likely to be disappointed.
So in the spirit of Christmas cheer, here is ammunition for your festive feuds — POLITICO’s guide to how Brexit affects Christmas dinner.
Good Housekeeping Magazine has already calculated that feeding a family of eight will cost 16 percent more this year than last, largely as a result of the Brexit-related fall in the value of the pound and subsequent inflation.
But there’s more in the Christmas Remoaner’s armory. Who knew, for instance, that Brexit could have a bearing on pigs in blankets?
And not to forget Brexiteers at the table, the Brussels sprout — unfortunate name aside — turns out to be (more or less) “Brexit-proof.”
The U.K. is a net importer of turkey breast, but when it comes to buying the whole bird at Christmas, around 95 percent of purchases are domestically produced, according to Michael Bailey, turkey farmer and member of the National Farmers Union poultry board.
While there’s no risk of a turkey shortage, the domestic industry is heavily reliant on EU migrant labor, especially to fill the seasonal spike in demand when turkeys need plucking in time for Christmas.
“I’ve spoken to several guys locally who have found it difficult to get staff this year. It’s becoming increasingly difficult,” said Bailey, a third-generation turkey farmer in Cheshire, northwest England. “Christmas dinner this year is going to be alright but next year could be affected because we won’t be able to process the turkeys.”
When it comes to buying turkey at Christmas, around 95 percent of purchases are domestically produced | Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Net migration to the U.K. fell by 103,000 in the year to June 2017, according to the latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics — due mainly to fewer EU nationals arriving and more of them leaving since the referendum.
Baileys Turkeys Ltd employs around 45 people during the seasonal peak and 30 for the rest of the year. Bailey estimates that around two-thirds of the turkey farming workforce is Eastern European.
When smaller, local farmers have to decide, early in the new year, whether to begin raising turkeys for next Christmas, he predicts some will conclude it’s no longer profitable because of concerns about workforce. That would mean fewer locally produced, specialist birds in local butchers around the country next year.
Pigs in blankets
For the benefit of non-British readers, pigs in blankets are a culinary innovation — some might say masterstroke — which involves wrapping a sausage in a piece of bacon. Double pig.
However, says Edward Barker, senior policy adviser at the U.K.’s National Pig Association, “Brexit, in all its possible outcomes, could affect the British pig industry in very different ways.”
There are some positives — pork exports to China are increasing and would benefit even further from a post-Brexit trade deal. But a hard Brexit would be a big problem for domestic supply, making export to the U.K. unviable for the likes of Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany if World Trade Organization tariffs were placed on trade, Barker said.
“If we had a hard Brexit, pigs in blankets could be pulled pork wrapped in belly meat instead” — Edward Barker
“This would mean the price of pig products would likely go up very sharply in the absence of measures to help improve U.K. production,” he added.
The U.K. also has what is known in the industry as a “carcass balance” issue. Brits eat a lot of bacon and loin cuts, but very little from the shoulder or the belly. Most of the latter is exported to Germany to be made into processed products. Until now, “European firms have been very good at balancing these different demands across EU countries,” Barker said. Brexit could change that.
“So if we had a hard Brexit, pigs in blankets could be pulled pork wrapped in belly meat instead,” he predicted.
The essential Christmas vegetable. The sprout has the prefix “Brussels” for historical reasons — they were widely cultivated near the Belgian capital — not, thankfully, because of some obscure EU directive exposed by erstwhile journalist Boris Johnson in the pages of the Daily Telegraph.
The good news is, they are more or less “Brexit-proof,” according to Martin Tate, commercial director of Lincolnshire Field Products says. Largely home-grown, they can also be harvested with minimal labor requirements, minimizing their exposure to post-Brexit falls in EU migrant labor supply.
The sprout is more or less “Brexit-proof” | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
At LFP’s 9,000 acre site, where 515 acres is given over to sprouts, “a small team of four driving an automatic harvester can harvest 20 or so tons a day,” said Tate.
If Brexit throws up trade barriers between the U.K. and the EU, it could be problematic for the Christmas pudding, traditionally doused in brandy and set alight (another British culinary flourish).
The U.K.’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association is pushing for post-Brexit recognition of EU geographical indications that protect terms like Cognac and Armagnac to ensure Brits are protected from inferior products.
Some English wine producers, such as Chapel Down in Kent, are now even making English brandy — so perhaps Brits will manage even in the hardest of Brexits.
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Another favorite Christmas tipple, Bailey’s, could be affected by arguably the most difficult part of the whole Brexit negotiation — the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“The big problem would be for our suppliers — Dan Mobley
Dan Mobley, corporate relations director of Diageo, which distributes Bailey’s, told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee earlier this month that dairy used to make the drink comes from both sides of the border. The company buys a remarkable 11 percent of Ireland’s cream output to make the drink, he said, and as a whole moves around 18,000 trucks a year over the border.
Any hold-ups would be “really unwelcome,” Mobley said.
“The big problem would be for our suppliers. If a smaller or medium-sized company, particularly in the dairy industry, had to cross that border and face new tariffs, that would be a big problem for them and could cause disruption in our supply chain,” he added.
That’s right. Brexit affects Christmas crackers.
Tony Pressdeno, the director of family business Simply Crackers, based in Bottesford, Nottinghamshire, England, says the cost of card and paper that he imports from Italy has gone up as a result of the falling value of the pound. The cost of making crackers — which his company manufactures bespoke for businesses, restaurants and some high-end shops — has increased by 10 percent.
The cost of making crackers has increased by 10 percent | Carl Court/Getty Images
Pressendo, who got into the cracker business 10 years ago, has also noticed a marked decline in interest from EU countries this year. The cracker, he says, is a distinctly British product — and may have fallen victim to something of a Brexit effect in European attitudes to their departing neighbor.
“Sales to Europe this year were almost non-existent. There used to be an appeal in a British product in Europe and I could certainly say that appeal has diminished now. Our European clients didn’t come back to us this year and I think it [Brexit] was one of the reasons,” he said.
“I’m not going to say there’s a strong anti-British feeling, but put it all together with the price increase, Brexit certainly has had an effect on us,” he concluded.