Gove: No-deal Brexit means “considerable turbulence” for farmers
At the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this year, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, told farmers and food producers alike that they faced turbulence that would be “considerable”, were the UK to leave the EU without a deal. He said it would hit “those who are our smaller farmers and food businesses”.
He said that leaving the EU would nonetheless be a positive move for the UK’s agriculture sector, stating that it would allow the UK to “escape from the bureaucratic straitjacket of the CAP and develop a more vibrant farming sector with access to technologies the EU is turning its back on.”
“Leaving the EU also means we can end support for inefficient area-based payments which as we know reward the already wealthy and hold back innovation, and we can move to support genuine productivity enhancement – and also support public goods like clean air or climate change mitigation which stem from the improvement of soil health, the improvement of water quality and the improvement of pollinator habitats,” Gove continued. “We can also better support our organic farming, landscape restoration and biodiversity enrichment, as well as improving public access to the countryside.
“All of these are real gains which our departure from the EU can bring, but these real gains risk being undermined if we leave the EU without a deal.”
The main concern that Gove focused on was that of tariffs, stating that the UK would face overall tariff rates of around 11 per cent on agricultural products. He went on to elaborate, however, and outline that some sectors would be affected to a greater degree: “It’s a grim but inescapable fact that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the effective tariffs on beef and sheep meat would be above 40 per cent – in some cases well above that.”
He continued to discuss a variety of issues that he claimed a no-deal Brexit would pose, including the fact that all British products of animal origin would, in theory, face sanitary and phytosanitary checks when entering the EU. Additionally, Gove stated that the EU would not allow hauliers to make multiple journeys between countries, which would potentially cause the cost of haulage to rise.
Gove then listed a number of additional issues which would stifle the journey of British agricultural products in the EU: “New labelling requirements, potential delays in the recognition of organic products, potentially reduced labour flows and the need to provide export health certificates for the EU market – which are not needed now.
“We can, and are, at Defra doing everything to mitigate those costs and are developing plans to help support the industry in a variety of contingencies.”
While Gove had earlier in the speech reassured his audience that warnings about the economic fallout of a no-deal were over-stated and another example of “Project Fear”, he did state that “nobody can be blithe or blasé about the real impact on food producers of leaving without a deal.”
“That is just one of the reasons why I hope my colleagues in parliament support the prime minister’s deal. It isn’t perfect – but we should never make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said.
President of the National Farmers’ Union Minette Batters echoed Gove’s call for caution: “We have to embrace the future … and make sure we have a goal and a plan.” She said the government had made clear that they would “obliterate the tariff wall on food so that products could keep coming in here without a tax … who wants to see food prices rising?”
Batters is similarly concerned about facing tariffs with regard to agricultural export. “We’d be priced out of the market. Forty per cent of our lamb goes to Europe, for just one example. We’re not going to suddenly start eating more lamb here. If we don’t have that export market, what happens to it?”