Farming and countrywide communities risk being written off as "collateral damage" in Boris Johnson's negotiations with Brussels, leaders warned last night amid mounting fears of the "devastating" impact Brexit could have on the rural economy.
The influential Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said uncertainty for Yorkshire farmers was growing in the "current tumultuous and fractious political landscape" after Mr Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament in the run-up to the October 31 Brexit deadline.
It came as former prime minister Sir John Major said he would fight the current premier in court, one of a series of legal challenges facing Mr Johnson over the move described by opponents as "an unprecedented affront to democracy".
And as efforts intensified to change the law to stop a no-deal Brexit in Parliament, the Prime Minister warned efforts to frustrate Brexit on October 31 would be seized on by Brussels to avoid offering a good deal.
"I'm afraid that the more our friends and partners think, at the back of their mind, that Brexit could be stopped, that the UK could be kept in by Parliament, the less likely they are to give us the deal that we need," he told Sky News.
Mr Johnson's approach was described as "completely irresponsible and chaotic" by senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, one of the leading opponents of a no-deal Brexit.
The MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford told The Yorkshire Post: "Boris Johnson still isn’t telling us what his Brexit plan really is or what it will mean for food prices, medicine supplies or manufacturing jobs. But instead of answering questions or debating it, he’s just decided to cancel Parliament instead."
But Conservative Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew, a government whip, said "extensive efforts" were being made to secure a deal.
He said: "In trying to secure the best deal possible with the European Union, the Prime Minister is quite right to say the only way to do so is to prepare to leave without a deal. The ability to leave without a deal is our strongest negotiating card, and at last it is being played in the right way."
Dorothy Fairburn, the CLA's northern director, said her organisation had warned the government to avoid "various Brexit scenarios that may have devastating impacts on the rural economy".
She said a no-deal Brexit would mean trade tariffs of at least 40 per cent would be imposed on sheep meat exports to the EU, damaging grazing livestock farmers who represent nearly a third of all farming across the region.
Ms Fairburn said: “The CLA will support any new free trade deals which grow and boost UK trade, but it is imperative that equivalent standards are met in order to prevent undercutting of the UK market with products of lower environmental or animal welfare standards. Our farmers and consumers deserve better.
“The CLA is seeking to ensure that agriculture and rural communities are not written off as collateral damage in Government negotiations with the EU. If the UK leaves without arrangements in place for free and frictionless trade with the EU, it would have major repercussions for farming, food production and the environment.”
Farming leaders have met northern MPs to lobby them over the importance of securing a Brexit deal which would "allow our farming sector to thrive and achieve its full potential".
Adam Bedford, regional director of the National Farmers' Union, said farmers were "desperate for some certainty on what the future will hold" as October 31 drew closer.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “The farming sector in Yorkshire is at the heart of the rural economy and is also crucial to two of the region’s economic powerhouses: food and drink manufacturing and tourism. So a good outcome is not only crucial for farming but for many other businesses across England’s largest county.
“The NFU has campaigned long and hard since the referendum to highlight the importance of British farming – its contribution to the nation and its ability to deliver solutions to some of our biggest challenges – not least climate change.
"We have met a large proportion of the MPs in our patch over recent months and would certainly urge them and the government to do everything possible to secure an orderly departure that will allow our farming sector to thrive and achieve its full potential.”