• Farming and Brexit

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    07 July 2017

    Farming has been on my mind a lot lately. Not least because in my new ministerial role I have a key responsibility for our customs policy. As we leave the EU I am determined that we maintain the ability of our farmers to have as smooth an access to European markets as possible – the EU is the final destination for around 60% of our farming exports and critical to the health of our agricultural sector. If there is any significant friction (either a slowing down or cost increase) relating to the transportation of goods across our post Brexit EU borders then farming will feel it – especially for perishable goods, which need to be moved quickly. A key part of my role is working with HMRC and our Border Force to ensure that we are ready to provide the rapid transit of goods after our departure – whether that be on day one in March 2019 when we officially leave the EU or after some kind of transition period beyond that. This is a hugely complex and very expensive project. In the absence of knowing the deal in advance we will need to cover off the toughest of all options whereby overnight millions of movements that have hitherto flowed between ourselves and the EU with virtually no bureaucratic intervention might require the kind of paperwork and admin that is currently applied to imports from and exports to the rest of the non EU world. Under this scenario around 134,000 UK businesses that currently trade only with EU states (and so are not registered or complying with rest of the world customs arrangements) may have to incur the costs and admin typical of current rest of the world customs compliance. Online declarations, potential additional inspections and the payment of agents. The additional IT required by HMRC to manage such a process is significant and we are working flat out to make sure that we are ready.  On farming subsidies the government has quite rightly agreed to maintain these at EU levels for the whole of this parliament and early comments by Michael Gove our new Environment Secretary suggest that, post Brexit, we may be able to rebalance the support for smaller farmers compared with larger ones. This might be especially important for our hard-pressed Dartmoor hill farmers. I am currently in conversation with Michael to see if he might be able to join me at one of Central Devon’s Agricultural shows this summer. The Okehampton and Chagford events are two of the main fixtures in our constituency and I am optimistic that I will be able to bring him to one of them and to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with local farmers, hill farmers, local producers and members of Dartmoor National Park to share ideas and issues face to face. Brexit brings much uncertainty but equally opportunities if we can get it right – and in Central Devon getting it right for farmers really matters.