'Brexit no-deal could put over half of UK farms out of business'

More than half of all UK farms will be put at risk of going bust in a “disastrous” no-deal Brexit scenario, campaigners warned politicians today ahead of a Westminster protest.

Farming would be the industry that suffers the most serious economic shock from a no-deal Brexit, the Farmer's for a People's Vote group said. Picture by Tony Johnson.

A flock of sheep will be herded past government buildings in London this morning to highlight the risk to livestock of Britain leaving the European Union without a trade deal.

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The stunt was being organised by Farmers for a People’s Vote, a new group launched to represent the interests of farmers against the risks of Brexit.

In a report released to coincide with the launch and written by Dr Séan Rickard, former chief economist at the National Farmers’ Union, the group detail how a no-deal would “devastating” impact on British agriculture.

Dr Rickard said: “The campaign to leave the EU was based on the idea that the UK would quickly secure a comprehensive new trading relationship with Europe and that leaving would have only positive impacts on UK farming. But today the reality looks very different.

“The industry that would suffer the most serious economic shock will be agriculture. It is impossible to project the exact number of farmers who will go out of business.

What we do know is that over 40 per cent of them will have no net income if the basic payment is removed. If at the same time the Government removes all tariffs and so depresses prices, these two factors combined will render over 50 per cent of farms in this country unviable.”

Guto Bebb, Conservative MP for Aberconwy, claimed the only way to resolve the Brexit crisis is to call a People’s Vote and let the public decide the next step.

He said: “Farming is at the very heart of what makes this country great – to put that all at risk for the sake of pursuing a disastrous no-deal for which the public haven’t given their consent would be an outrage against democracy.”

The group’s report highlights no-deal concerns about tariffs and other barriers on food imports from the UK, saying no-deal would effectively create a trade embargo to the EU, perhaps lasting years, as agreements were negotiated.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We have been very clear that once we leave the EU on 31st October, we will replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a fairer system of farm support and our new trade deals must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers.

“As we have said before, the cash total for farm support will be protected until 2022, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We will also intervene to provide direct support to boost some sectors in the unlikely event this is required.”