Amid the scholarly corridors of learning at Oxford University, very few concrete answers were provided about Defra’s Brexit strategy.
Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Farming Minister George Eustice presented with aplomb, but the substance was lacking on what the future negotiating strategy looked like for UK farming.
Eye-catching promises regarding a bonfire of red tape may have appeased some farmers hankering for less bureaucracy, yet concerns remained about Defra’s position within government and its ability to make the industry’s voice heard.
Will the department be able to shape future agricultural policy, or will it merely have to deal with the budgetary hand it is dealt by the Treasury following the triggering of Article 50 in 12 weeks’ time?
Then there are the devolved nations and what they are set to gain or possibly lose. As one of the devolved Ministers pointed out, there is no point inviting them to the party if Defra is not going to involve them in the overall process of discussion and debate.
Wider than agriculture the Oxford Farming Conference took place as the UK’s lead ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, resigned from his post, voicing concerns about the UK’s capacity to handle complex negotiations as it tries to shape its future away from the EU.
There is real concern among many in agriculture that the industry could find itself at the bottom of the UK Government priority list when it comes to Brexit. And if that proves to be the case then being bottom of the list in a brutal set of negotiations could mean agriculture is set for the hardest Brexit of all.
This is not to suggest we should all become depressed about the industry’s prospects, but we need answers about what Defra and the Government is planning to deliver.
The Oxford Farming Conference provided the perfect platform to provide those reassurances. The fact they were not means farming continues to face a daunting leap in the dark.
Keep an eye on next week’s Farmers Guardian for farmers’ views of what they want for UK agriculture post-Brexit