The UK Government’s poor attempt to manage the glaring contradictions in its post-Brexit ag policy might appear farcical, but farmers are unlikely to be laughing as the Carry On saga continues, says Leicestershire arable and beef farmer Joe Stanley.
I’m fond of referencing historical comparisons, but with the incomparable Brexit I draw a blank.
So I turn instead to the opening words of the Book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.’
The futility of our struggles before a greater power is the main theme of the book, with the author declaring that righteous decisions must be implemented – even if obviously to our detriment.
Comparisons with the UK/EU negotiating relationship, and ‘the will of the people’ might be drawn.
Britain’s burst of post-Imperial vanity in ‘taking back control’ has thrown up some intractable challenges for its farmers – the majority of whom, it must be remembered, are thought to have voted for the concept.
The most troubling aspects are the stark dichotomies being presented to agriculture by a political class and commentariat oblivious to the realities of food production and security.
Firstly, we’re told that the Common Agricultural Policy has ‘failed’ UK farmers.
Farmers might retort that CAP provides vital support, and that its myriad failings can mostly be blamed on UK implementation.
Furthermore, the UK intends to remain shackled to the most scientifically illiterate parts of the EU psyche via full regulatory alignment post 2019.
Second, that post-Brexit the UK will become a producer of foodstuffs grown to only the most exacting and costly regulatory standards – quite forgetting the shallow pockets of the poorest in society, or price sensitivity of export markets.
Third, that Britain will ‘take back control’ in all areas – yet witness the unsavoury alacrity with which minsters and MPs scramble to conduct bargain-basement trade negotiations to flood our shelves with food produced to lower standards than our own.
Fourth, that a resurgent Britannia is confidently triumphant in Brexit, yet looks to cut off labour vital to many sectors – including healthy British fruit, veg and dairy – to pander to nativist sentiment.
Fifth, that the UK will become the trading entrepôt to the world, when for agriculture the recent spate of international EU export deals proves we can already capitalise on new and exotic markets, all while being part of the world’s largest trading block - anchored 21 miles from Dover.
And sixth, that ‘our’ environment is worth more than that of other nations, as we look to provide ‘public goods’ and ‘environmental services’ for ourselves, whilst importing more food produced to potentially unsustainable standards from elsewhere.
These glaring contradictions are charging headlong at UK agriculture, and ultimately our consumers, as a result of grievously undermanaged political and social vanities.
The time for platitudes has passed – UK farm businesses need clarity, certainty and sustainability.
Perhaps the Book of Ecclesiastes is too serious a tome with which to compare Brexit Britain’s passive-aggressive relationship with the EU.
Perhaps instead Kenneth Williams unknowingly captured its spirit in 1964 with the immortal line – ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’
2019’s Carry On Brexiting is unlikely to produce so many laughs.
Joe can be found tweeting at @JoeWStanley