New Defra Secretary Michael Gove has refused to rule out remaining in the customs union after Brexit.
Staying in the customs union would allow continuation of free and frictionless trade with the EU, but it would also mean the UK would not be able to strike its own trade deals around the world as it would have to apply the EU’s common external tariff.
Just three days ago, Mr Gove told the BBC the UK would leave the customs union, but in an interview with Farmers Guardian at the Three Counties Show today, his tone softened.
When asked if the customs union option – backed by NFU president Meurig Raymond – was back on the table after the disastrous performance of the Conservatives in the election, he said: “I will listen to Meurig, but to me, one of the things which is important is not the institution of which we are part, it is the powers and freedoms and opportunities we have.
“I absolutely believe the most important thing is to have the freest possible trade and to maintain access to European markets, but at this stage I do not want to be prescriptive about how we do that because I do not want to do anything that gets in the way of the negotiating flexibility that my colleague [Brexit Secretary] David Davis needs to get the best possible deal.”
Mr Gove also refused to commit the Government to producing a 25-year food and farming plan – something which was ditched from the Conservative Party manifesto, unlike its counterpart on the environment.
Asked if there would be a plan, he said: “All I will say at this stage is everything in the manifesto we will honour, and there is more to come. When and how, the Farmers Guardian will be the first to know.”
“Negotiations begin on Monday and I will not pre-empt what is going to come out of those negotiations other than to say I and the Government are committed to getting the best possible trade deal so there is tariff-free and frictionless trade for all our goods.”
“I am absolutely determined to make sure the success and health of the rural economy is at the heart of our negotiating strategy.”
“We are in the middle of a 25-year plan in order to eradicate bovine TB. There are a number of tools necessary in order to advance that. I will always be guided by the best scientific advice from vets and we are going to carry on maintaining the policy I have inherited.”
“I am always, I hope in every area in this job, going to be guided by science. One of the things I want to do is to develop a deeper and better understanding of trials and the appropriateness of particular approaches in this policy area, but at this stage, all I want to do is to look at the science and I am not going to signal any change in policy until I have had a chance to get to grips with these areas.”
“There is a manifesto commitment to ensure that we continue to support agriculture in the way we have in the past right up until 2022. Of course as we leave the EU, there is an opportunity to look at the way money is allocated in order to see if we can make it more efficient and more effective, but the first thing I need to do is to listen to those at the sharp end and learn from them how we can improve the current allocation and delivery of support.
“That process of listening, learning and developing policy all happens against the background of an absolute guarantee that the funding is there.”
“The first thing to say is that I have absolutely no intention of allowing any of the protections which are currently in place which ensure the consumer has high quality food and farmers are encouraged to invest in maintaining the very highest standards, there is no way that is going to be undermined.
“It is important that we do support farmers and others in the rural economy to take advantage of new opportunities that emerge as we leave the EU, but it is also important that people know we will not be lowering standards in any way.”
“We need to make sure the labour force is there to ensure we have continued economic growth. One of the promises the PM has made is we will consult with everyone in order to make sure they have the workers they need and those workers have the training and the opportunities they need in order to make sure they economy grows.
“I am determined to make sure the rural economy continues to have the flexibility and the access to people that it needs in order to stay economically ahead of the game. That is part of shaping the right policy as we leave the EU.”