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Anti-Brexit ‘big business’ must realise 17.4m leave voters are their customers

Anti-Brexit ‘big business’ should recognise the 17.4m people who voted to leave are their customers, who do not appreciate democracy being turned on its head, says John Henning, County Armagh beef farmer, Nuffield Scholar and former banker.

The arrival last week of Storm Erik was a timely reminder that winter is not yet over despite great grass covers, good crop establishment and reasonable ground conditions.

 

The battering winds and heavy rain here in County Armagh created some anxious glances at dwindling fodder supplies and caused planned dates for slurry spreading to be revised.

 

In farming it is always about the seasons, but there is something dark, depressing and angry about the weather in those short winter days before the arrival of spring.

 

It was writer Kahlil Gibran who said: “For the sight of the angry weather saddens my soul…,” and this thought may have crossed many farming minds during recent storms.


But sadly, it is not just the weather which is angry in February 2019, with just over 40 days until the UK leaves the EU next month.

 

Anger

 

Since the EU referendum, we have seen lots of anger from those who wish to remain and increasingly it has been accompanied by a degree of nastiness towards those who disagree.

 

And now there is increasing anger from many who voted to leave, as their frustration with those who seek to overturn the referendum decision comes to boiling point aided by the daily barrage of what they see as ‘project fear’ – particularly from ‘big business, big politics and big government’.

 

In farming, some share the view that ‘industry’ opposition to a so-called no-deal Brexit is really support for staying in the EU and may be driven by the interests of processors and retailers rather than farmers.

 

But perhaps ‘big business’ should recognise the 17.4m people who voted to leave the EU are also consumers and customers.

 

Asking them to Buy British and Support British Farming might not sit well with their view that democracy is being turned on its head.

 

Nastiness

 

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the arguments about Brexit, it is sad so much nastiness is now directed at our politicians – many of whom are doing their best in difficult circumstances.

 

In recent weeks, I have attended several events where some industry leaders have seen fit to publicly name call and insult senior politicians in the UK and Northern Ireland, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they may well be sitting down with these people in the future to seek help for their members.

 

By all means criticise when it is needed, but let’s leave the nastiness behind. Surely farming people are better than this.

 

Despite all the uncertainty mooted by industry commentators and others, there is little evidence of this adversely affecting the decision-making of farmers on the ground.

 

Last week in Ballymena dropped calves were selling to £400 and store cattle were making up to £300/100kgs, with pedigree Holstein heifers selling in Dungannon recently to 2,950 guineas.

 

All of these purchases will have to pay their way in an agricultural industry outside the European Union. Clearly these buyers are confident in their ability, and that of UK agriculture, to survive and indeed thrive.

 

Many farmers in Northern Ireland did vote leave in the referendum due to concerns about the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), increasing bureaucracy and memories of milk lakes, beef surpluses and grain mountains.

 

First

 

And some of those farmers were voting for the first time, despite the normally high turnout at elections here.

 

I have yet to meet a farmer who feels differently today, with most confident in the ability of UK Agriculture PLC to deliver for both farming and the environment without the constraints of an EU system which was not always fit for purpose.

 

No doubt there will be challenges and uncertainty ahead due to Brexit, but that is not really much different from the many unexpected events which have impacted on farming over recent decades.

 

Our industry has always adapted and changed in response to those challenges and opportunities.

 

After all, in the words of Canadian writer Brian Brett, ‘farming is a profession of hope’.

 

John can be found tweeting at @johnhenningmoo


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