Britain's farming sector faces possible decimation if a decent post-Brexit trade deal isn't struck

LONDON — The government is currently sending “mixed messages” on to the farming sector about post-Brexit policy which will be a “considerable challenge” to deliver, according to a new House of Lords report.

The report, prepared by the cross-party European Union Committee, says that the government’s vision for the UK “as a leading free-trade nation with low tariff barriers to the outside world” does “not sit easily with its declared commitment to high quality and welfare standards in the UK farming sector.”

The problem is this: 72% of Britain’s agricultural exports go to the EU, and the sector faces potential decimation if the government does not strike a favourable trade deal with the EU once it leaves.

A good trade deal will be difficult to strike with the EU, however, if the UK pushes on with plans to drop out of the EU’s regulatory frameworks, because member states do not tend to trade with countries without similar policies on regulation, funding, and farming standards.

The report says: “Agricultural policy … cannot be seen in isolation from trade.”

“The terms of future free trade agreements will affect or limit domestic policies on regulation, funding and farming standards, while those policies may, in turn, determine which countries UK products can be sold to.”

The report also criticised another issue facing the sector: The potential labour shortages arising from plans to dramatically cut EU immigration dramatically after Brexit.

It said: “The UK’s agri-food sector relies extensively on other EU countries for both permanent and seasonal labour.

“Without access to this labour resource, both the agricultural sector and food manufacturers will face severe difficulties. This is an immediate challenge, which the government must address urgently as the UK approaches withdrawal.”

May’s plans are “alarming”

Britain’s biggest farming union has previously indicated that it is “alarmed” by the prospect of the “hard” Brexit Theresa May has pledged to pursue.

Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers Union, told BI in January: “We’re a large economy, we import a vast amount from the European Union, and they are our closest trading customer. I cannot quite see, and I am alarmed to see, why the prime minister is turning her back on the single market.”

“To not have access to the single market — certainly for some sectors, the sheep sector for example — would be absolutely disastrous. We’d be trading at 51% World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs, and we’d be priced out of the marketplace immediately,” she said.

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