The NPA is urging MPs to back Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal in an unprecedented parliamentary session on Saturday.
The deal would provide welcome continuity for the pig sector for just over a year, at least. The deal, agreed by the UK with EU leaders on Thursday, includes a number of similarities to the deal secured by Theresa May that was repeatedly rejected by MPs, including a transition period where the UK’s relationship with the EU, including rules and tariff-free trade, remains largely unchanged until the end of 2020, and possibly longer.
The big change is the removal of the Irish backstop, which would have ensured frictionless trade across the Irish border, if no permanent arrangements were in place at the end of the transition.
Instead there will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but Northern Ireland will retain a number of EU rules to remove the need for checks at the Irish border. In practice, the customs border will be between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with goods being checked at ‘points of entry’ in Northern Ireland.
Saturday’s vote, if takes place, looks like being close. The DUP has said it will not back the deal, leaving Mr Johnson potentially reliant on the former Conservative MPs he recently sacked for voting against him and Labour rebels to get it through.
NPA senior policy Ed Barker said: “This deal is not perfect, but it would avert the huge threat of no deal Brexit in under two weeks from now, something the pig sector is desperate to avoid.
“A no deal would result in a deeply unfair trading system, with hefty tariffs imposed on UK pork exports to the EU, while minimal tariffs on pork imports open our gates to potentially lower standard imports from all over the world. We could also see damaging delays at ports, major challenges to exports of breeding stock and uncertainty over key inputs, while we still don’t know the implications for our vital pork trade with China.
“The transition would at least give some certainty until the end of 2020, allowing businesses to plan with a degree of confidence. The deal also allows for a further two-year extension, which could benefit the pig industry and wider agricultural sector.”
The NFU said it was pleased to see that the UK and EU negotiators have come to an agreement on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which it hopes might pave the way for an orderly Brexit and the avoidance of leaving without a deal.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “However, we must remember that if this deal is agreed by UK and EU Parliaments in the coming days, it only determines how the UK withdraws from the EU and does not determine the long-term future of the UK’s and EU’s relationship.
“It is vital that government has a long-term aspiration to ensure that British farming standards are not undercut by an ambition to open up British markets to food which would be illegal to produce here and that there is free and frictionless trade with the EU in the long term.”
Mrs Batters added: “We have had precious little reassurances on these issues so far and we look to government to be clear about its ambitions for British farming, which provides affordable, safe home-grown food produced to some of the highest standards in the world.”