One of Yorkshire’s MPs has said that protecting British agriculture must be at the heart of trade deals surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond, said that it was essential that the new arrangements the UK establishes for the food and drink industry post Brexit provide British farmers with a level playing field and do not leave them exposed to mass-produced foreign imports.
Mr Sunak, who was speaking at a rural business Brexit debate at Tennants Gardens Rooms in Leyburn, said that the sector as a whole now had a duty to educate the public about the importance of buying British produce.
Mr Sunak also added that he did not feel that the decision of the British public to leave the EU would result in more member states deciding to leave, saying that he felt Brexit would actually lead to further political and economic integration within the continent.
Responding to a question from a farmer on the threat that could be posed by cheap imported foods from the likes of Brazil and New Zealand, the Conservative MP said: “There has got to be a debate on this because most people in this country do not live in an agricultural community.
“We all need to play a role because we need to convince the person who is going shopping suburban Birmingham that it is worth paying 5p more their milk because the way the farmer is working is to a higher standard of welfare. You want to get pork that is reared in this country because the pigs are not being kept in the conditions that they are in Poland or Germany or Holland.
“Those debates need to be had. It is not going to be the easiest debate in the world. People like the allure of cheap things without thinking about where they are coming from.
“And that is where the trade deals come in. Looking around the world what kind of protections are there in these trade deals for domestic agriculture?
“Most farmers are happy to compete if they think it is a level playing field and I think our job and my job is to ensure these trade agreements put into place a level playing field.”
Mr Sunak also said that he felt Brexit would not trigger a house of cards style collapse of the EU as some commentators have predicted, saying he felt there was “one direction of travel” for the EU member states towards stronger ties.
“Our experience of Europe is different to continental Europe’s. We have a different history, we were not invaded and we have had a stable democracy in this country for generations. That is actually quite rare in Europe. In Greece or in Spain you have had military dictatorships not that long ago, certainly if you are in an Eastern European country you were being ruled under the Soviet Union for some time. “Their emotional attachment to Europe is much stronger than ours and their are willing to give up a lot more sovereignty in order to be part of something that they feel provides them with institutions of a stable and functioning democracy.
“I do not think Brexit will lead to a cascade of countries leaving the union.
“It will be easier for them to go on and integrate even further. The direction of travel is one way. It would need more economic integration to make the single currency a success. That has to happen or that currency will just break down at some point.”
Mr Sunak was speaking at the first of a series of informal lunches at Tennants Garden Rooms with guest speakers to debate the current issues facing businesses in all sectors across North Yorkshire.
The first debate was focused on the implications for Brexit on the rural and Yorkshire economy with Mr Sunak and Yorkshire Post business editor Mark Casci the speakers.
An audience of around 30 business people from around the region attended the inaugural event.
Each event will place an emphasis on open debate and will focus on specific issues, questions and priorities posed by the audience.
The next debate is due to take place on April 28 with the subject matter still to be confirmed.
Tennants in Leyburn is one of the biggest auction houses in Europe.
For further information and to book tickets, visit tennantsgardenrooms.co.uk