Time Breitmeyer: Countryside can't be dead zone post-Brexit

TO say that we live in uncertain times has never been more of an understatement, with the Prime Minister and the country facing a challenging few months during which our path to EU exit will hopefully become clearer.

Can Theresa May deliver a Brexit deal that also satisfies farmers?
Can Theresa May deliver a Brexit deal that also satisfies farmers?

Will the Prime Minister secure an exit deal with the EU and, more to the point, can she steer that deal through Parliament? What will the final deal, or indeed no deal, look like and mean for the UK?

Indeed few would wager a bet on whether Mrs May will even be Prime Minister at Christmas. Meanwhile our European colleagues look on with bemusement, fearful of the chances of Westminster accepting any deal she may broker.

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What is clear is that she and her team of advisers will certainly earn their crust if they are to secure a deal that will be acceptable at home. In my discussions with MPs in Westminster it is clear: there still remains a significant majority for Brexit, but the path that Brexit should take is very much up for grabs.

What will be thei mpact of Brexit on farming and agriculture?

It seems that whichever future model for our relationship with the EU is making news headlines on any given day, there is simply not a majority for it in Parliament.

Ironically, I suspect, if push came to shove, there isn’t a majority for a no deal Brexit either. Something will have to give before March 2019.

I have been clear in my message to politicians and others both in the UK and in the EU that UK farmers first and foremost need a deal that provides frictionless trade with the EU.

A future relationship which imposes barriers to trade or excludes agri-food would not just put at risk farming businesses but have a devastating impact across the wider rural economy for many years to come.

Away from the national headlines, the Agriculture Bill will be passing through Parliament over the next few months. Securing commitments around a long-term budget, avoiding cliff edges in farm payments during the transitional period and gaining greater detail on the planned productivity measures for farming – these are all CLA priorities as the Bill is debated by MPs and peers.

I was pleased to be able to make these points to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in Parliament. Its chairman, Neil Parish MP, has a clear mission to make sure the Bill works for farmers as well as delivering environmental benefits, a point close to my heart and aligned with the CLA mantra of “profitable farming must come first”.

I also emphasised the need for a long-term budget to Liz Truss MP, the Chancellor’s deputy and the person in control of Government spending, when I met with her in the Treasury.

While Brexit seems all encompassing at times, there are many domestic priorities which have not gone away. Rural connectivity and, in particular 4G mobile coverage, remains critical to rural businesses countrywide.

A reliable mobile signal to take advantage of new technological innovations will deliver the potential to revolutionise the rural workplace and its communities. Without it, visitors from town and cities who have become accustomed to unrestricted mobile coverage at home will stay away instead of filling our holiday homes and diversified attractions.

So I was delighted to see that the All Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business has recently launched its report on 4G mobile coverage and recommended the introduction of rural roaming, allowing automatic switching to a different network in areas where your provider has no coverage.

We worked closely with the MPs who drew up this report, and I wholeheartedly endorse its suite of recommendations which could make a transformational difference.

It is time for the mobile operators to step up and deliver the high-quality universal coverage that they champion to us all, not just those who choose to live and run businesses in towns and cities.

The consequences of not getting these and other decisions right amidst the turmoil of Brexit could be dramatic. Government has a duty to ensure that it delivers on trade and farming certainty as well as the infrastructure the countryside demands.

Given the right platform, vital investment by rural businesses themselves will ensure the ongoing success of the countryside.

Tim Breitmeyer is
 president of the CLA.