Shock resignation leaves Grimsby duck giant in the lurch over no-deal Brexit concerns

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 4 Mar 2019

A North East Lincolnshire company has been left in the lurch after the minister who bosses were due to discuss no-deal Brexit concerns with sensationally quit.

Duck breeder Cherry Valley Farms had a meeting in Parliament scheduled with Defra minister George Eustice MP today, but the Tory politician resigned in a surprise move just four days beforehand.

He was also the figurehead in government for fisheries, with the town's processing sector looking towards him.

Mr Eustice, a minister since 2013 and former press secretary to David Cameron, said the decision by the Prime Minister to “allow the postponement of our exit from the EU” beyond the March 29 deadline – should MPs vote to extend Article 50 – had forced him to reconsider his front bench position.

The situation means John Vernam, Cherry Valley’s business representative, no longer knows if his meeting with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will go-ahead next week. He had been due to travel to London to meet Mr Eustice and his officials face-to-face.

The Laceby-based duck breeding firm is the world’s largest supplier of pekin ducks in the world. The company is worried about the impact of no-deal on its operation, especially when exporting live one-day-old ducklings to Europe.

Cherry Valley Farms is the largest exporter of pekin ducks in the world

The former company chairman said: “We are concerned about Brexit. The fact we are leaving is a major step but then to be making changes on the basis that we don’t know how those changes are going to look, that is quite frankly very scary.”

Cherry Valley Farms was founded in 1958 and has been exporting ducklings since 1975 – the year the first referendum on membership of Europe was held in the UK. Its main base is in North East Lincolnshire, with duck farms across the rest of the county.

Mr Vernam said 70 per cent of the world's pekin ducks originated from Cherry Valley stock, with the company also holding a presence in Germany and China.

Read more: Brexit delay bid from northern Lincolnshire Tory MP

For Cherry Valley, leaving the European Union would mean having to secure health certificates – a recognition of Britain’s “third country” status after splitting from Brussels – and pay for extra inspections before its ducks can be transported into the EU.

Mr Vernam, who worked for Cherry Valley for more than 40 years and is now an advisor to the business, said he recognised that Defra and other government departments were putting plans in place to deal with the rupture of no-deal but said the prospect remained “worrying”.

“It is quite frightening that we are three or four weeks away from this and there are still crucial elements of this scheme that need to be finalised,” he said. “Work is happening, don’t get me wrong, but it is still a very worrying prospect.”

Under the current terms, the majority of Cherry Valley’s ducks exported into the EU do not need to be inspected, but the company would have to fork out for those specialist checks if there is not a deal in place before Britain’s exit from the bloc.

“It would be more burdensome than it is now. Would it be impossible? No, it wouldn’t,” said the ex-managing director. “We would work our way round it, that’s what we are in business to do. But we would have that new paperwork to do when dealing with Europe and an increase in the amount of necessary work.”

Read more: Free ports would deliver ‘limited’ economic boost

Securing a deal with Europe, said Mr Vernam, would be the preferred option for Cherry Valley. He said: “We would know where we stand with health certificates going forward and with our trade and the routes we trade through. Having a deal would mean having the ability to have a fixed process with the EU and that is highly desirable.”

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn raised Cherry Valley’s concerns with Mr Eustice before his resignation and the minister agreed to meet with the Lincolnshire poultry breeder, which distributes pekin ducks to more than 60 countries.

The Camborne and Redruth MP agreed to a meeting and, following a letter exchange with Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers, had confirmed the date with Mr Vernam. The company is now waiting to hear back from Defra officials about whether the meeting will still go-ahead.

On Wednesday, February 27, MPs agreed to Theresa May’s plan to vote for a second time on her deal on or before March 12. If she does not getting the backing she requires, the PM will then ask the House of Commons to decide whether to continue with a no-deal Brexit and, if not, will put the option of extending Article 50 to a vote.



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