Britain's food industry has threatened to break off cooperation with the government because of the “catastrophic” risk of a no-deal Brexit, in an extraordinary clash.

The heads of more than 30 trade associations said all attention should be focused on what they called “ever more the likeliest outcome” of the ongoing crisis – in under 50 days’ time.

As a result, they have told Michael Gove, the environment secretary, they cannot “respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives”.

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“If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond,” the industry warned, in a letter.

The letter has been by the bosses of organisations including the Food and Drink Federation, National Farmers' Union, the Federation of Bakers, the Potato Processors Association and National Association of Cider Manufacturers.

Their plea highlights food industry chiefs' anger about the continued uncertainty over the terms of the UK's departure from the EU – and the threat posed to businesses.

“In fewer than 50 days, the UK will leave the European Union,” said the letter, which was obtained by Sky News.

“The legal default is that we will do so irrespective of whether or not we have signed a withdrawal agreement and, at present, that no-deal Brexit looks ever more the likeliest outcome.”

The executives said the focus on Brexit meant that “at this moment of potential crisis for our industry, it cannot be 'business as usual' within government”.

“Neither we nor our members have the physical resources nor organisational bandwidth to engage with and properly respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives at this time. Government has recruited many extra staff; we cannot.”

Among the expected consultations that food and drink sector bosses want delayed are a deposit return scheme, a consistent national recycling collection service, proposals for a tax on plastic items with less than 30 per cent recycled content and a national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides.

The letter comes a fortnight after some of the UK's biggest retailers, including Asda, Marks & Spencer and J Sainsbury, warned that a no-deal Brexit would undermine the food industry's complex supply chain and threaten the country's food security.

The heads of the Agricultural Industries Confederation, the British Coffee Association, the British Frozen Food Federation, the British Growers Association, the British Meat Processors Association and the British Poultry Association were among the other signatories to the letter.

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