Whether the UK gets a Brexit deal or not, farmers will eventually end up with roughly the same outcome because markets will still be there, argues Neil Farmer, an arable and sheep farmer from the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border.
Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal is very unpopular.
It is quite possible it will not be voted through the House of Commons, causing a no-deal Brexit.
If this were to be the case, where would it leave UK agriculture?
Imports and exports will have to continue after Brexit, so there will have to be some sort of further negotiations and arrangements, which could well end up taking a similar form to the draft Brexit deal – although without being tied to the customs union.
The breeding ewe trade this autumn has been lower than many had expected or hoped.
While I feel this was partly due to the severe drought, several people have said to me it is because of Brexit – they do not know how lamb exports and therefore price will be affected next spring, so were not prepared to buy as many ewes as normal to lamb next year.
My answer to that is, ‘if we do not lamb any ewes next spring, we will not have anything to sell next autumn, whatever the price’.
We have been selling lambs for a long time and have never known what price we are going to receive the next year.
We tupped ewes in Autumn 2000, and a year later were forced to sell around one hundred 46-50 kilo lambs deadweight. They came back at £24/head, when we sold stores for £28 in 1980 twenty years earlier.
This was of course due to foot and mouth, and not Brexit, but will the outcome be the same for the lamb price next time?
I for one cannot answer that, but I doubt the French will stop eating lamb on March 30 2019.
Another issue if we end up with no deal is Europeans working in the UK. People are not going to stop coming here to work overnight, so again the situation will have to be sorted out.
We use a local veterinary practice that has employed vets from all over Europe for many years. We have had vets from Poland, Holland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Southern Ireland, Denmark and Germany.
They have all been excellent vets – one reckoned she could do a caesarean blindfolded.
These people come and go – some back to their home country and some to other practices in the UK, and they all speak good English, including all known swear words.
These people are not going to leave next March, nor are their contemporaries going to stop coming here in the future.
Then we have to consider all the seasonal workers who come to the UK to pick and pack fruit and veg and much more.
The same applies – the work is available and whether we end up with a Brexit deal or no deal, I feel the outcome will be basically the same.
I have in my hot little hand a leaflet entitled ‘The European Community’, dated November 1974, with a chapter called ‘Removing Barriers’.
It says by July 1968, customs duties on trade among the original six member states had been abolished and those between the three new members – the UK, Denmark and Southern Ireland – would be reduced by 20 per cent a year and eliminated by 1977.
Another chapter, ‘A Better Life’, states: “The Community’s objectives include raising living standards, developing poorer regions, promoting employment and welfare, furthering vocational training and general education, protecting consumers and improving the environment.”
I guess these objectives have, by and large, been achieved, but at what cost? Some European ‘projects’ became white elephants.
The Community’s operating budget for 1975 was ‘about’ £2.3 billion, and 75 per cent of this was for agricultural improvement projects, farm price support and export refunds.
In 1977, Denmark was paying 2.4 per cent of the operating budget, Ireland was paying 0.8 per cent and the UK was paying a whopping 19.2 per cent.
No wonder Mrs Thatcher ‘hand bagged’ Europe for the £400 million rebate a few years later.
I feel the European Community in the seventies was in general a good thing, but the powers that be were not satisfied and wanted more.
The Maastricht Treaty may have been a step too far, and sowed the seeds of what turned out to be the leave vote.
I wonder if David Cameron and Nigel Farage ever meet for a pint and debate this?
It seems to me that the real deal with Europe is all swings and roundabouts, and whether we have deal or no deal the outcome will be broadly the same – a bit like the 2016 referendum, almost 50/50.
In fact, a friend of mine only two weeks ago ran a Facebook vote and had 107 people respond.
The result, believe it or not, was remain 49 per cent, leave 51 per cent.
Conclusion – nothing changes.
Neil can be found tweeting @Nelliefarmhouse