No-deal Brexit tariff regime needs urgent revisions - farming unions tell Chancellor Philip Hammond

Unions representing farmers across the UK have sent a joint letter to the Chancellor to unequivocally urge him to look again at tariffs which would apply to imported food in a “catastrophic” no-deal scenario for British farmers.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

In writing to Philip Hammond, the UK’s four major farming unions say that the Government’s recent UK applied tariff policy announcement is another example of how British farming will be damaged by a no-deal Brexit.

Their letter followed questions to the Government in the House of Lords, where Baroness Anne McIntosh of Pickering sought clarity on what assessment had been made of the impact the tariff proposals would have on agriculture.

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Outlining the union’s concerns, Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union which represents more than 55,000 farmers and growers in England and Wales, said: “The Government’s recent no-deal applied tariff policy announcement confirms our view that to leave the EU without a deal in place would be catastrophic for UK farming.

“While we acknowledge that the tariff policy announced earlier this month is intended to be temporary and would be in direct response to an undesirable situation facing the country, we have very significant concerns about the damage this policy would cause to farmers across the country.

“Without the maintenance of tariff protections we would be in danger of opening up the UK to imported food which would be illegal to be produced here, produced at a lower cost because it may fail to meet the environmental and animal welfare standards which are legally required of our own farmers.”

The Government has said that the temporary tariffs and quotas, announced last week, would apply for up to 12 months while a full consultation and review on a permanent approach to tariffs is undertaken.

Under the arrangements, 87 per cent of total imports in to the UK by value would be eligible for tariff-free access.

Industries deemed “vulnerable” are offered protection. Tariffs would still apply to 13 per cent of goods imported into the UK, including on beef, lamb, pork, poultry meat and some dairy products. However, eggs, cereals, fruit and vegetables are not afforded the same protection.

“Under the no-deal tariff policy even those sectors that are treated sensitively by our government will, in most instances, see worrying and large reductions in the tariff rates currently charged on non-EU imports,” Ms Batters said.“Tariffs currently in place by virtue of EU membership on almost all agricultural products deemed to be sensitive by the UK will be slashed, including those on beef, poultry meat, cheddar, butter, sugar and pork.”

The union leader went on to say that she respects the Government’s decision to avoid a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event of leaving the EU without a deal, but that the border must not be allowed to become a loophole that only works to the benefit of Irish businesses, to the detriment of UK producers.

The farming unions expressed their “keen” interest in working with the Government to better understand its rationale for the proposed tariffs regime.

Ms Batters added: “As there is still the possibility of a no-deal exit, government must act now to address these concerns and revise the tariffs and quotas accordingly, to try and lessen the significant damage which a no-deal would inflict on the UK farming sector.”

Responding to questions by Baroness McIntosh and other peers in the Lords this week, Lord Gardiner, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “In developing their tariff policy, the Government considered the interests of consumers and domestic producers.”

Quizzed on why eggs, cereals and horticulture would not get tariff protections, Lord Kimble said: “The Government have sought to bring forward a balanced approach... “We are conscious in our considerations that this would be a temporary tariff regime in the event of no-deal – which I emphasise we do not wish – and that there were areas where we wanted to get the balance right in protecting sensitive sectors, such as the sheep sector, while there were other areas where prices to the consumer were also important.”

The Government remains committed to high standards of food safety and animal welfare, he said, and that existing UK import standards will still apply.