As Theresa May faces rebellion within her own Cabinet over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, farm leaders have urged politicians to act to avoid the ‘mayhem’ of a no deal.
The prospects of the Prime Minister being able to deliver the agreement took a massive dive on Thursday morning with the resignation of Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.
Mrs May appeared to have secured the backing of her Cabinet on Wednesday night for the agreement, which would deliver a transition period after March 31 and sets out the principles for a close future trading relationship with the EU, subject to further negotiations.
But the deal, drawn up between UK and EU negotiators and set out in a 585-page document still needs to be ratified by the various EU decision-making bodies before being put before the UK Parliament, probably in December.
If it gets even that far, this is likely to be the biggest hurdle to securing an agreement, with concerns among the DUP over the implications for Northern Ireland and deep dissatisfaction among Brexiteers over a deal they see as a betrayal of the original vote. The extent of this feeling was made clear by Mr Raab in his resignation letter.
Farm leaders have welcomed the Withdrawal Agreement, but expressed deep concerns that the divisions within Government and among MPs could lead to the UK leaving on March 29, 2019, without a deal with the EU.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We welcome the Withdrawal Agreement as it provides continuity and some much-needed certainty for the pig sector.
“The transition period up to the end of 2020, and possibly longer, is very important for our sector, which will be heavily affected in so many ways by our departure from the EU. The commitment to a free trade area with zero tariffs and quotas is also welcome as the two-way trade in pork products we currently enjoy with the EU is critical.
“If the agreement becomes reality, there would still be a number of issues where we continue to demand clarity These include access to EU workers under the new skills-based migration policy and the maintenance, at least, of the current surveillance work for pig disease at EU level and of our border controls to keep infectious diseases out of the UK.
“Overall, this agreement would remove some of the fears within the pig sector over our future outside the EU, while enabling us to focus on the opportunities.
“But, as has been well-documented this is just one step towards such an agreement. We urge MPs if and when they get to vote to consider the potentially devastating impact of leaving the EU without a deal for the pig sector and wider agricultural community.
“Our hope is that the Government and MPs work together for best interests of country, rather than using this situation as an excuse to score political points. As the high profile resignations start on the morning after, our fear, however, is that this might be too much to ask.”
The NFU called for UK and EU leaders to work together to finalise a Withdrawal Agreement to ensure continued free and frictionless trade after the UK leaves the EU.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “Since the EU referendum, the NFU has maintained that free and frictionless trade for British farming is absolutely critical. This trading relationship allows British farmers to provide safe, traceable and affordable food to the public, all while adhering to some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world.
“It is critical that we avoid the mayhem of a no-deal Brexit in March of next year, and this Withdrawal Agreement paves the way for a transition period that maintains free and frictionless trade with the EU, and provides stability for farmers and the wider economy.
“There is still a huge job to be done in negotiating the details of our future relationship with the EU. Despite the progress made, there is still much work to be done. I would urge all involved to remember the importance of British food and farming when considering their support for the new agreement.”