Following last night’s announcement by European Union leaders who have offered to delay Brexit, the NFU said delaying Article 50 merely delays, rather than eliminates, the possibility of leaving without a deal.
Prime Minister Theresa May had asked for a delay up to the end of June, but following a meeting on Thursday to discuss it, leaders of the other 27 member states agreed to a tighter timetable.
If Mrs May can get her withdrawal deal through Parliament next week, the exit date will be pushed back to May 22 to give time to pass the necessary legislation.
But If she can’t get the deal through, the UK will have to propose a way forward by April 12 for EU leaders to consider. April 12 has become the critical date because, with EU elections scheduled for May 23-26, there needs to be clarity by then about whether the UK will be participating in them.
By April 12, the UK would need to clear about whether it is leaving with or without a deal or is seeking a longer extension.
NFU president Minette Batters said while the organisation is relieved that it appears farm businesses will be spared the worst of a no-deal Brexit, that prospect remains a reality, perhaps in as little as three weeks’ time on April 12.
Mrs Batters said: “The Prime Minister and Parliament have been given a brief window to find a way to ensure we leave the EU in an orderly fashion at the end of May. We urge them to seize this opportunity without hesitation, and to identify the concessions they will all need to accommodate to finally take no-deal off the table. In particular, the short extension agreed by the EU must be used immediately to resolve the current impasse.
“British farming, along with wider British business, has been left in an intolerable situation of extreme uncertainty with no clarity as to what our future trading relationship with the EU would have been like in just a matter of days’ time. So, while this extension provides a short respite, it would be unforgiveable and grossly irresponsible for Government and Parliament to leave us in the same, damaging situation we have experienced in recent days.”
Mrs Batters reiterated that a no-deal exit from the EU would be disastrous for British farming and food production and should be avoided at all costs.
She added: “The continued uncertainty is now proving extremely damaging to our farmers and growers and wider UK industry and the lack of clarity about whether we leave with a deal or not is totally unacceptable.”
NPA senior policy advisor Ed Barker said: “While the announcement appears to remove the prospect of leaving without a deal on March 29, it does not change much.
“We still don’t know when – or even if – we are leaving and, if so, whether the terms of our departure. The prospect of a damage no deal Brexit remains a very real possibility.
“The ongoing uncertainty is damaging for pig businesses trying to plan for the future. We continue to stress that a no deal would cause significant disruption to the pig sector, which is why we continue to urge MPs to back Mrs May’s deal and end the uncertainty.”