The shock General Election result has cast a huge shadow over the Brexit negotiations, which are due to begin formally in just a few days.
While the result leaves the Conservatives in pole position to form some sort of working majority, probably in coalition with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), there is still no absolute certainty about which party will lead the next Government. Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear he believes his party has a mandate to lead a minority Government.
Theresa May’s position also appears uncertain after her gamble to call an election to reinforce her hand in the Brexit negotiations backfired spectacularly on the back of an uninspiring campaign. She has indicated her desire to stay on to bring ‘stability’ to the situation but is facing calls to step down.
The biggest question mark policy-wise is, of course, over Brexit, with formal negotiations due to begin in 10 days – and uncertainty now over who will be representing the UK position.
There are now questions over the extent to which the ‘hard Brexit’ policy mapped out by the Tories prior to the election might now have to be re-written. There is already speculation that the outcome will add further pressure on an already tight timetable and could increase the chances of a damaging ‘no deal’ outcome at the end of two years of Article 50 talks.
And from a farming perspective, another development to look out for will be who takes the reins at Defra when a new Cabinet is formed. Andrea Leadsom’s position was certainly under scrutiny prior to the vote.
National Pig Association chief executive Zoe Davies said the vote reinforced the need for strong industry leadership, particularly over Brexit:
She said: “In an already volatile political environment, this result only adds to the uncertainty and instability surrounding the Brexit negotiations – and that could be very damaging for the farming sector.
“The industry needs clarity on Brexit as some of the big decisions to be made, for example on access to the EU market, new trade deals and the future availability of labour, will have profound implications for our sector.
“We will continue to deliver strong leadership for the pig sector and, whoever is in power, we will carry on making the case for a fair deal for the British pig industry.”
NFU President Meurig Raymond said farmers need clarity over Brexit. He said: “The NFU is committed to start working with whoever forms the new government to ensure all areas of Whitehall understand and value the importance of British food and farming. The NFU has a good relationship with all parties and, as ever, will work with whoever is in power to promote the interests of British farming.
“British farming underpins the country’s largest manufacturing sector and with farming arguably the sector most impacted by Brexit, NFU members need clarity and certainty as soon as possible over who will govern the country and how they plan to support profitable, productive and progressive agriculture and horticulture in the future. The NFU will be seeking early meetings with Ministers. It is important for our industry to have clarity and see certainty from a functioning administration as soon as possible.
“If the formal Brexit negotiations begin as planned on June 19 we will continue to push for the right post-Brexit trade deal, regulatory framework, a domestic agricultural policy suited to Britain and access to a competent, reliable workforce.”
CLA President Ross Murray said: “This result adds further uncertainty to a period of significant upheaval. The CLA’s top priority is the interests of the tens of thousands of farmers and other rural business owners that are getting on with their jobs today, while politicians manoeuvre and negotiate. We are ready to work with the new Government to influence the big decisions that will shape the rural economy and rural communities.
“Immediate attention will inevitably be on the implications of this result for securing a Brexit deal that will work in the long-term interests of agriculture and the wider economy. We remain confident that the right deal can be done.
“However, the priorities extend well beyond Brexit. Our leaders have responsibility to work together to provide rural businesses the economic stability and confidence to grow and create jobs, as well as build the homes and infrastructure that rural communities need.”
FDF Director General Ian Wright said: “The nation has delivered its verdict and the country demands leadership at this uncertain time. Politicians across all the parties must come together to deliver in the national interest so the UK’s £110 billion food and farming industry can continue to thrive.
“The Brexit clock is ticking loudly and the country will not forgive a failure to act.”
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “The election was called with the intention of establishing a clear mandate for the Brexit talks that lie ahead. Just weeks ago, the outcome of the election looked a certainty. Now we are in an uncertain place and no immediate clarity on the road ahead.
“NFU Scotland is crystal clear that Brexit is the biggest challenge facing agriculture. Our members want to know what will happen now with the proposed Great Repeal Bill, the timescale on Brexit talks and where commitments given by all the parties during the election on policies to support food and farming now sit.
“Clarity on the formation and direction of the next Government must come quickly as the intention was to kick-start Brexit negotiations in Europe in 10 days’ time.”