SINCE we first faced the prospect of a possible no-deal Brexit on March 29 this year, plans have been constantly refreshed for the next deadline at the end of October, and once again some understandable concerns are being raised about the impact this may have on our farmers.
There are a few things we need to get straight on this. Firstly, both candidates for Number 10 are not ruling out a no-deal Brexit. Yet both are committed to getting a deal with the EU so that we can leave in an orderly way and maximise the opportunities of taking back control of our money, borders and laws.
The team at Defra is working hard to mitigate the impact of leaving the EU without a deal, making sure that farmers and the wider food industry can prepare for every scenario.
The scale of work the department is undertaking to prepare for all Brexit scenarios is significant and I am looking forward to engaging with farmers about the details when I visit the Great Yorkshire Show on Thursday.
Sheep sector: One particular concern is the risk of a no-deal Brexit to our sheep farmers. I am very aware of the unique circumstances our sheep sector face and the fact that around 30 per cent of our sheep meat is exported to our near-neighbours in the EU.
That is why we are in close contact with representatives of the sheep sector across the UK regarding contingency plans to minimise disruption for the sector.
There is significant work underway to ensure that UK exporters can maintain access to EU markets after October 2019, including in a no-deal scenario. Earlier this year ahead of the expected April 12 departure, the EU approved the UK’s exports of live animals and animal products.
This means that we met the required animal health and biosecurity assurances required for a third country to export to the EU. We expect that the EU would do the same, if necessary, in October.
Tariffs: Farming leaders, including NFU president Minette Batters, have also raised concerns about high tariffs being applied to our exports of sheep meat to the EU, which, combined with continued imports from New Zealand, could lead to oversupply in the UK.
We have published our no-deal tariff schedule which means 87 per cent of imports will enter tariff-free but with protections for certain meat and dairy products. The transitional tariff regime will apply for up to 12 months if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The regime seeks to strike a balance – as it must – between maintaining current supply chains and avoiding an increase in consumer prices.
However, we could face extremely high tariffs on lamb, for example, around 40 per cent. We stand ready to mitigate the effects of this situation but this could only be a damage-limitation exercise.
Trade: Avoiding delays at the border is also a key concern. In a no-deal scenario, businesses exporting animals and animal products to the EU would need to apply for an Export Health Certificate (EHC) before they export.
These businesses would also need to make sure their trade route passes through a Border Inspection Post (BIP) when entering Europe. All the guidance and certificates are available online to help businesses familiarise themselves with new processes before exit day.
For food imports from the EU, there will not be any new border checks in a no deal but importers will need to notify authorities using a new system called the Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System (IPAFFS). This has been launched to replace TRACES, the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System. Again, the latest guidance on this is available online.
Continued funding: Regardless of whether we leave with a deal, I also want to reiterate that farm payments via the BPS, Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship schemes will continue as normal this year and next. Farmers just need to make sure they continue to follow the same rules and guidance. I was also pleased that we were able to announce last month that all eligible CS and ES customers who are waiting for their payments will receive the full amount for these in July, via a Treasury-funded payment.
Our farmers produce some of the best food in the world to the highest environmental and animal welfare standards.
We will be doing everything we can to ensure that they have the guidance and tools they need to continue doing what they do best, whatever happens in October.
Robert Goodwill is the Farming and Fisheries Minister. He is also Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby.