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Opinion - Sean Rickard, independent economic analyst

Farmers who voted to leave the EU may have known what they were voting against, but they could not possibly have known what they would get instead.

Farmers who voted to leave the EU may have known what they were voting against, but they could not possibly have known what they would get instead.

 

It must by now be clear those leave campaigners who told farmers support payments would be protected while regulations would be cut were, at best, dissembling.

 

Outside the EU, farm payments in competition with the NHS and social care will be cut, while there is little prospect of any reduction in environmental, animal welfare and food safety regulations.

 

But by far the biggest threat to farm incomes and the size of the UK industry is the Government’s incredible threat to ‘walk off a cliff’ into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if a trade agreement cannot be reached with the EU by March 2019.

 

In this situation, facing by far the largest tariff barriers, farming would be hit much harder than any other UK industry.

 

The EU accounts for more than 70 per cent of UK agri-food exports. If you were a chief executive of a UK-based food company, would you now be planning to expand capacity?

 

It is vitally important UK agriculture is not forced to trade with the EU as an external WTO member.

 

It cannot rely on the Secretary of State, who appears out of her depth with her vacuous statements on farming post-Brexit.

 

Moreover, the Government is attempting to deny Parliament its traditional role of scrutinising policy.

 

Now is the time for industry leaders to stand up and, with one voice, make it clear failure to deliver a transitional arrangement will bring chaos and lasting damage to UK farming.

 

The only realistic transitional policy is a European Economic Area agreement, as in Norway.

 

This would permit the UK to explore trade deals outside the EU, while allowing farmers and food processing customers to continue trading with the EU as normal.

 

NFU leadership knows better than its members the truth of the foregoing, yet it seems reluctant to say so. Now, as never before, is time for the NFU to raise its voice and bring to a halt the Government’s Panglossian approach to farming’s fate post-Brexit.

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