Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central and Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
THE food and farming sector has already experienced challenges since the EU referendum in June. Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March, so we are already halfway to the start of negotiations over our future relationship with the EU.
Yet, Labour’s scrutiny of the Government, including in Defra, has shown that they are nowhere near ready.
They are unable to answer vital questions on which the basis of negotiations will begin.
The excuse of not holding the negotiations in public is certainly not cutting with the City. The fact is that there is no plan.
This has resulted in confidence in the pound falling, currently by 18%, and we are starting to see prices rise and the commencement of disinvestment by some sectors of the economy.
Food and farming form the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, so we cannot afford any erosion of the sector since this will impact on our food security.
The Government cannot just look to opening up new markets in China when the EU are our friends and neighbours and the major importer of UK food and farming products.
Labour has set out some fundamental principles to build stability and confidence now, starting with remaining in the single market, the largest trading block in the world. In addition, the EU workforce, invested in and trained by food and agro-businesses should be allowed to stay to provide stability of labour.
Having led the debate in the EU over environmental measures, as leaders in research and innovation partnerships, Labour has also said the minimal EU standards must be transposed into UK law, but we must then go further.
With the value of the pound so depleted, the Government will have less revenue. In other words, the Secretary of State cannot give any guarantees beyond the next 3½ years as to what deal farmers can expect to receive.
She talks optimism, but warm words do not address the harsh realities of balancing the books each month or planning for the future.
We call for longer term stability.
Labour’s priority is to sustain the most important industry in the UK and we will work with you to get you the best deal.