The prime minister has proved that breezy slogans can win referendums and elections, but the detailed graft of negotiating trade deals is a lot harder.
With the end of the EU withdrawal transition period rapidly approaching, UK agri-business needs clarity over future trade arrangements with its biggest market.
Yet, amid all the noise and recriminations it remains unclear whether this government really means to appease its Brexity right wing by leaving without a deal or if it is merely playing to this gallery before compromising. After all, the “oven ready deal” the last election was fought over, in practice meant compromising on Theresa May’s hard-fought Withdrawal Agreement by agreeing to an Irish border in the Irish Sea rather than on land.
Business doesn’t want no-deal – media speculation is already sinking sterling which increases the cost of imports, as will added delay and bureaucracy after January 1st. And exports to the EU would face tariffs, which would add to supply/demand pressure on UK commodities such as cereals – particularly barley this year.
Farming organisations have warned of a no-deal “catastrophe” for some time now – a recent Knight Frank report warns that 30% of UK farm businesses could be unviable in a no-deal scenario. Defra minister Eustice this week, parroting the government line that no-deal could be a good outcome, had to concede it would mean 40% tariffs on UK beef exports.
Whether it is posturing ahead of compromise or determined to crash out, government must be honest with business to help them prepare for either eventuality. Having to hope for the best while preparing for the worst is not helpful.