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Chequers agreement is the ‘worst of all worlds’ for UK farming

The Chequers agreement is not a sensible Brexit compromise for agriculture because it keeps all the downsides of EU membership while limiting the upsides of leaving, says Sam Goddard, an arable farmer from north west Essex.

Brexit supporters have always been a minority in Parliament, and it seems to me that with the Chequers proposals the PM is betting they can now be faced down once again.

 

However, with Conservative MPs across the country apparently experiencing a bombardment of complaints about it from leave-voting constituents – and perhaps more importantly Conservative Party members – the plan’s survival is far from guaranteed.

 

It does seem that the Chequers proposal could bring the worst of both worlds for UK farming. The specific commitment to ‘maintain a common rulebook for goods, including agri-food’ is clear – no potential to loosen our regulatory requirements or exploit technology the EU bans.

 

While at the same time, we know we will leave the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and don’t anticipate receiving the same levels of direct support as farmers in the EU.

 

Difficult

 

We can add into this joyful mix the strongest of the Government commitments – to end free movement – to create what looks like a difficult picture for UK farming.

 

Attempts I have seen to persuade MPs that farm workers should count as highly skilled in any new immigration policy have been like water off a duck’s back in comparison to the political pressure to reduce the numbers.

 

So the main criticism of the proposal, that it is not the sensible compromise which would always be necessary, but rather that it maintains the downsides and limits the upsides appears to be true for farming.

 

There is, however, the clear caveat that if we can work efficiently enough to compete with our neighbours we will at least be able to continue easy export into the bloc.

 

Embrace

 

We aren’t making any changes on-farm yet in anticipation of changes in policy. I still believe the most successful businesses will be the ones which continue to invest and try to embrace whatever comes along.

 

With the OSR harvest now firmly underway, there is little time to worry about it all anyway. That being said, if the Chequers plan falls apart completely, I can’t see how the current Government can survive it.

 

Perhaps that is why we have seen the creation this week of a hashtag almost as good as #YourHarvest – #ChequersMeansCorbyn.

 

Sam can be reached @SamMGoddard on Twitter.


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