With Brexit now less than 90 days away and Prime Minister Theresa May facing an uphill struggle to secure support for her Withdrawal Agreement, uncertainty reigns over almost every aspect of British industry – with few areas of greater importance to the nation’s future than farming businesses responsible for domestic food production.
The National Farmers’ Union has warned of potentially major disruption to British agriculture in the event of a no-deal Brexit, hiking export costs and delaying the arrival of essential imports such as veterinary medicines, fertilisers, feed and machinery parts.
There are no easy solutions available as lowering import tariffs to avoid food price rises would open the door to goods that have not met the high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection guaranteed by British farmers.
The ticking clock and potential problems are certain to be serious food for thought for MPs wavering over whether or not to vote in favour of Mrs May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement later this month. It was a point seized upon by Environment Secretary Michael Gove as he told the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday that the “considerable turbulence” which would follow no deal Brexit would hit smaller farm businesses worst of all. In contrast, he said, Mrs May’s deal would eventually allow the UK to leave the Common Agricultural Policy and “largely” diverge from EU regulations but most immediately buy time to sort out future arrangements through a 21-month transition period that would maintain current arrangements.
The Parliamentary maths may not currently be in her favour but as more influential organisations like the NFU raise their deep concerns about the impact of no deal, the Prime Minister may yet win over faltering MPs.