Agriculture industry organisations are unanimous that a no-deal Brexit would be very harmful for the UK agri food sector, its businesses and employment.
There has been a flurry of statements as the government tries to force Parliament to choose between the prime minister’s Chequers deal and leaving the EU on March 2019th with no withdrawal deal in place. It has increased the pressure on MPs by delaying the vote with the two-year Article 50 timeframe rapidly running down. Meanwhile, the government is further weakened by a growing cross party consensus rejecting this binary choice.
Meeting ahead of the original “meaningful vote” expected in mid December, the Agricultural Industries Confederation’s board concluded that, from a UK food and agriculture viewpoint, the worst possible outcome would be leaving the European Union without a deal.
While the AIC recognises that individual members may have reached different conclusions, it advises that a deal would be far preferable to no-deal, and recommends member companies contact local MPs to make their views known.
The four UK farm unions have written a joint letter to all MPs urging them to take all the steps necessary to avoid such a departure, since a no-deal Brexit would have a catastrophic impact on UK food and farming.
In particular, the unions point to huge potential disruption from an effective trade embargo on the export of UK animals and animal based products, while certain UK food exports would face particularly high customs tariffs – for example the effective EU tariff would be 65% on beef; 46% on lamb and 27% on chicken.
Even if the UK was approved as an exporter to the EU, it imports could be disrupted with severe delays at ports. This could affect essential farm inputs such as veterinary medicines, fertilisers, crop protection products, feed materials and spare parts for farm machinery. Over 90% of animal vaccines and medicines are imported into the UK.
Furthermore, the UK government could choose to control food price inflation by unilaterally lowering the UK’s import tariffs, opening the UK market to food imports, much of which would be produced to standards lower than those of the UK.
“Brexit will mean that, for the first time in a generation, UK politicians will have direct responsibility for ensuring our nation is properly fed,” state the unions. “Yet, in the face of this fundamental responsibility, there is a very real risk that a disorderly Brexit will lead to an immediate reliance on overseas imports, produced to lower standards, while many UK farms struggle to survive. The implications, not only for domestic food supply but for the careful management of our cherished countryside, would represent an historic political failure.”
A joint statement from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the Tenant Farmers Association, representing agricultural landlords and tenants, urges MPs to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
It warns of the danger of significant tariffs on exports, or potentially the inability to trade with the EU which accounted for 60% of all UK food and drink exports in 2017. In addition, the lack of a secure supply of migrant labour would also leave high value crops at risk of being unpicked this summer and autumn.
“Avoiding the uncertainty and catastrophic effects of a no deal Brexit is critical for both landlords and tenants as well as the wider rural economy,” warns CLA president Tim Breitmeyer. “Leaving the EU without an agreement firmly in place is likely to have disastrous long-term consequences for the nation’s countryside and its rural communities.”
TFA chief executive George Dunn adds: “The sustainability of the landlord-tenant system, managing over a third of our agricultural land, depends on ensuring the long-term profitability of the sector. Both landlords and tenants need the confidence to invest for the future and the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit would put that in jeopardy.
“It is vital that the Government delivers a viable framework to ensure that Brexit provides more opportunities through a good deal than the challenges that would be presented by a no deal scenario.”