The National Farmers Union (NFU) has announced plans to launch farming’s “most significant consultation” over the impact of Brexit on agriculture and what a domestic farming policy should look like in the future outside the EU.
The announcement followed today’s extraordinary NFU Council meeting, during which union president, Meurig Raymond, said the Government must not ignore the economic importance of the farming sector, adding that it is the bedrock of the UK’s largest manufacturing industry, food and drink, and is worth £108 billion.
“Currently there are lots of uncertainties for farming, with trade agreements, labour, financial support, legislation all being up in the air,” he said, promising that the NFU will consult its members, in every sector, to ensure that everyone can have a say in shaping the future of farming for them, their children and their grandchildren.
Urging all farmers to take part in the planned consultation, he added that the country needs a policy that ensures a profitable, productive and sustainable future for British farming.
As a starter, today’s council meeting set out the following key principles to be addressed by the consultation:
- We must get the best possible access to markets in the rest of Europe. Although we will not be a member of the EU, it will still be our major trading partner for the foreseeable future.
- Currently we benefit from more than 50 trade agreements with countries in the rest of the world. We will continue to need these kind of arrangements in future, whether this means negotiating new deals or not.
- A key question we had to the Leave camp, and on which we never received a clear answer, was what kind of access would an independent UK give to imports from the rest of the world? Our requirement is that we are not open to imports which are produced to lower standards.
- During the referendum we have repeatedly drawn attention to our sector’s need for access to migrant labour, both seasonal and full-time. Outside the EU we will need some kind of student agricultural workers scheme, which is open to students from around the world.
- Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to build a new domestic agricultural policy which is adapted to our needs, easy to understand and simple to administer. We will be looking for guarantees that the support given to our farmers is on a par with that given to farmers in the EU, who will still be our principal competitors.
- We will want to see a rural development policy which focuses on enhancing our competitiveness. Britain has been a pioneer in agri-environmental schemes, but these are currently running out of steam, in part because of over-prescriptive EU rules. We must take this opportunity to devise better schemes.
- If there was one message which came over loud and clear in all our farmer meetings it was frustration with European regulation and its handling of product approvals, due to an over-politicised approach and excessive use of the precautionary principle. We now have a golden opportunity to ensure our arrangements are in future proportionate and based on sound science.
Headline image shows the NFU’s council in emergency session today