Defra Secretary Michael Gove has spelled out the potentially debilitating impact on the farming sector of a No Deal Brexit.
Opening the flagship Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Gove urged the industry to ‘look beyond the horizon and take a longer view’ of the benefits Brexit could bring.
He said it would provide the opportunity to break free from the shackles of the EU and embrace the opportunities provided by the ‘fourth agricultural revolution’, driven by technological advance. He said opportunities provided by the likes of robotics, drones, big data, gene editing and vertical farming will help boost productivity and reduce the industry’s reliance on labour. He urged farmers to embrace change.
“Supporting reform holds the key to the Treasury’s special box,” he said, in reference to the prospect of future funding levels for agriculture.
He sought to highlight the ‘world of opportunity for British agriculture if we embrace the opportunities outside the EU’. But he warned this could all be jeopardised, at least in the short-term, if we leave the EU without a deal in less than three months from now.
“No-one can be blasé about the impact of leaving the EU without a deal on farmers,” he said.
He said some sectors would face large tariffs on exports, which would have a big impact on their ability to sell into the EU market. There could also be a delay while the UK secures the necessary permission from the EU to export animals and animals products, plus big delays at ports as the major trade route, Dover-Calais, currently lacks the necessary border inspection facilities. The EU has stated that all exports will have to be checked.
There will be added bureaucracy, for example additional requirements around export health certificates, bringing extra costs across the industry. There could also be reduced access to EU labour, he added.
He said this is one of the reasons he is backing Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Deal, which is due to go to a vote in mid-January. It will see us leave the Common Agricultural Policy, while avoiding the disruption of a no deal and allow the UK to ‘forge ahead with reforms which can put Britain in a world-leading position both in food production and also in the stewardship of our environment’.
Mr Gove again insisted that the Government was determined to avoid a situation where UK productions were compromised under future trade deals, but again fell short of delivering the firm commitments on this the industry is seeking.
On this theme, NFU president Minette Batters began her speech with a call for leadership and action in 2019 after 2018’s ‘warm words’. She challenged the government to live up to its responsibilities to ensure that Britain has a robust supply of safe, traceable and affordable food following Brexit.
Mrs Batters stressed that a no-deal Brexit could be ‘catastrophic’ for Britain. “There have been enough warm words and comfort to us as farmers but now is time for decisions from the government about how it will secure the nation’s food supply.
“It is crucial that Government engages with our industry to deliver a sustainable, competitive and profitable British farming sector for generations to come,” she said.
She challenged Mr Gove to introduce legislation to protect UK farmers from lower standard imports by adopting an amendment to the Agriculture Bill tabled by the EFRA Committee.