British farmers should start preparing to lose the protection they have had for 40 years from Ireland and France, argues Eamon Cassells, a young beef farmer from County Meath in Ireland.
Oh Britain! What have you done?
From the outside looking in, you look like that guy who is in a good stable marriage and has everything going for him, but suddenly gets a mid-life crisis and decides he needs to go ‘find himself’.
Not only that, we as your next door neighbour are having to deal with the consequences just as much as you are without having any say in the matter.
As a beef farmer, I am extremely worried about the impact of Brexit on my business. With 65 per cent self-sufficiency, the UK is a net importer of beef. Ireland is the main import supplier, accounting for almost 70 per cent of UK beef imports.
The UK is the market for 50 per cent of Irish beef exports, with a further 45 per cent going to the EU.
Now, I know what you are thinking, ‘Good! We won’t have you paddies coming in displacing British product on the shelves!’, but we are not your enemy here. We are another relatively high-priced product with similarly high production standards.
Surely you would rather compete with us than having to face up against extremely cheap product from South America, which can put beef on shelves without having to conform to the same standards of environmental protection and animal welfare British and Irish farmers have to.
If a free trade agreement cannot be hammered out by March, then trade deals will have to be sought elsewhere by the British Government.
Under a bus
Make no mistake about it, if it comes to that then Whitehall will have no hesitation in throwing British agriculture under a bus in order to get a deal.
Britain will need trade deals in a hurry and every other country knows it. This is not a strong position to start negotiating from.
Add to that the fact Great Britain has had a cheap food policy for the past 80 years.
The consumer is not going to tolerate a sudden spike in food prices, and since there are more people employed in the sandwich making industry than there are farmers, it is an easy trade for British negotiators to sacrifice beef farmers in order to sell some cars in Rio.
The last time we had an Englishman in charge of a trade negotiation, Peter Mandelson was more than happy to sacrifice agriculture to appease the US. It was pressure from Dublin and Paris rather than London which pulled us back from the brink.
The Irish and French Governments have been the real guardians of British farmers for the past 40 years and for some reason you want to throw that away.
Maybe Defra Secretary Michael Gove can stay true to his word, but the Conservatives won’t be in power forever – or for very long if you ask me – and God help you when Labour get into office!