Ben Barnett: MPs must act in national interests to make frightening farming vision go away

The sheep industry would be among the worst affected by higher EU trade tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Picture by James Hardisty.
The sheep industry would be among the worst affected by higher EU trade tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Picture by James Hardisty.
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The vision of what Brexit could look like in the short term for farming, as set out by Environment Secretary Michael Gove and by NFU president Minette Batters this week, was a frightening one.

Mr Gove told the 1,500 or so farmers attending the union’s annual conference in Birmingham that with six weeks to go before Britain leaves the European Union that the EU had still not listed the UK as a full third country in the event of a no-deal scenario, meaning there’s no absolute guarantee Britain would be able to continue to export food to the EU.

The EU also intends to levy full external tariffs on all food, effectively making British exports expensive and therefore unattractive to EU countries.

On top of tariffs, British exports of animal origin would need extra checks at border inspection posts, which would slow down trade and cause lorries to back up at Calais.

Transport costs would therefore increase, there would be extra paperwork for exporters and new labelling will be needed for UK products of animal origin to be exported to the EU.

“The stuff of nightmares”, as Ms Batters put it, as Mr Gove urged farmers to press their MPs on the importance of avoiding a no-deal so forthcoming votes in the Commons avoid this worst-case scenario.

Overcome those concerns and there is a longer term confidence in British farming that came across during the discussions.

With a strong farming lobby and depending on a listening Government, free from EU policy-making shackles, there’s a sense that supporting productive and profitable farming is in everybody’s interests.

The NFU wants agriculture to meet a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2040. The Government has promised a greener Britain, and it needs a profitable farming sector to deliver environmental gains.

Ms Batters told farmers to go back to their farms feeling reinvigorated. Changing consumer trends and smarter farming methods make this an exciting new era of opportunity. Our politicians can drive that momentum forward further still by acting in the national interest in the coming weeks.

READ MORE: Michael Gove pledges action for farmers waiting environment payouts