• Brexit and Farming

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    10 February 2017

    The most common question people have asked me since the UK voted to leave the EU is, “what will Brexit look like?” With the publication of the recent White Paper, the Prime Minister has given us a clear picture of the deal she will seek to strike. We will take control over immigration and this will mean leaving the Single Market – a step that means significant economic challenges. The big question now is to what degree we can strike free trade arrangements with the EU to make up for this – vital given that the EU comprises over 500 million consumers and accounts for half our international business. We will seek maximum access but presumably some parts of the economy will be prioritised over others – perhaps the City, car manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. In the longer term, of course, our departure will see us free to strike up new deals with non EU countries and this provides very substantial opportunities even though the rewards lie well into the future. So what does this all mean for our local economy in Devon? For me farming lies at the heart of our local communities – from it flows the jobs – working on the land, processing and transportation and retail. It provides the vital stewardship of our environment, supporting tourism. In total farming contributed £1.7 billion to the South West’s economy last year. The Government has been proactive in supporting our farmers since the Brexit vote, guaranteeing that Direct Farm Payments – which make up around half of farm incomes – will continue until 2020 and that those agri-environmental schemes entered into prior to last year’s Autumn Statement will be delivered on in full. Many local farmers have expressed their concerns to me about what happens beyond this though. How good will farming’s deal be in the face of the hugely influential agricultural lobbies across the Channel? Might we face tariffs and customs barriers for our European farm exports? These serious questions will need addressing during negotiations. Yet there are also opportunities that we should rightly seize. The Common Agricultural Policy – decried by farmers as nightmarishly bureaucratic - will be replaced with a new domestic arrangement, tailored to the needs of our farmers. The Government has signed trade deals to open 600 new overseas markets for British food and farm products since 2010 and discussions have already started with Australia and New Zealand about future trade ties. Countries from the Far East to South America and the Gulf have expressed an interest in striking trade arrangements with us; offering potentially exciting new opportunities for our agricultural sector as part of the new Global Britain we seek to build. As we enter negotiations with the EU there will be give and take and there will have to be compromises. But compromises or not, in Westminster I will be vigorously pressing fellow ministers to help secure the best possible Brexit for our farmers and local people here in the heart of Devon.