North Yorkshire farmer Andrew Loftus explains why he believes Brexit cannot come soon enough for British farmers.
First we were told, by HM Treasury no less, that the simple fact of voting Brexit would
trigger an immediate recession and a rise in unemployment of between 500,000 and
In fact, we have seen growth in every quarter since the vote, subsequently revised
upward, and highly likely to be revised upwards again this spring.
At the same time, unemployment has fallen to the lowest level in my lifetime, even as the number of EU nationals employed here grew to the highest yet recorded (2.3m). Phew. Panic over.
Then we were told, by almost everyone, the so-called Brexit bill could top £100bn. In
fact, it turned out to £35-39bn, and given this covers the UK’s annual contribution, forecast by the EU at £10.5bn per annum, until the end of the transition in 2020, the actual
additional bill is only about £16bn. So 84 per cent less than predicted. Phew. Panic over.
The next fantasy spouted by all sorts of people who should know better was the ‘cliff edge’.
For a while it sounded like planes might drop out of the sky and the motorways grind to a
halt as lorries full of British lamb exports were grounded at 11pm on March 29 2019.
Yet in reality, as everybody who cared to think about it knew, a transition period was duly agreed, and if needs be, this can be extended - though they will of course pretend otherwise. Phew. Panic over.
Unembarrassed so many of their previous fantasies have proved to be just that, the
scaremongers turn next to tariffs. They rely on two key assertions.
First, that we will not be able to agree tariff-free trade with the EU, and second we will be able to agree tariff-free trade with just about everyone else.
The first of these is now so unlikely it can safely be ignored. The EU’s negotiating guidelines
were agreed by the Council in less than one minute last Friday. They state: “trade in
goods…covering all sectors…should be subject to zero tariffs and quotas with appropriate
accompanying rules of origin”.
So there you have it. The EU is offering tariff-free trade in agricultural products, exactly as predicted, given their massive trade imbalance with the UK. Phew. Panic over.
The Rules of Origin are important too. This will likely mean there is some extra border
paperwork, amounting to what is called a ‘non-tariff barrier,’ but as a British farmer I am
fairly relaxed about that.
If it makes it just a little harder to import food this is a structural advantage to UK producers, and these rules of origin may have the unintended effect of enabling clearer labelling on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.
The assertion that the UK will strike trade deals with the new world deserves the most
careful examination. The simple truth is these trade deals are coming whether or not
we leave the EU.
Late last year I gave evidence to the European Parliament on the impact the proposed EU-Mercosur trade deal is likely to have on EU beef producers.
The cost of beef production in Brazil is less than one quarter of the cost here, yet Mr Juncker is hell-bent on signing this free-trade deal before he leaves office in 2019.
This will mean at least 78,000 tonnes of South American beef heading for the EU. Additional controls of any type are unlikely. Why? Because the real aim is to get German manufacturers into South America.
So increasingly globalised trade, and the playing off of one sectoral interest against another
are a big challenge for British farmers, whether in the EU or out of it.
We have the best chance of success if we can make our voice heard in a proper open debate about the future of our countryside and our food supply, with the decisions ultimately taken by an accessible and democratically accountable government.
Close observers of the European Commission will know it is none of these things. For too long national politicians have taken the heat while the Commisson made the decisions.
Anyone who doubts this should look up Martin Selmayr. You have probably never heard of
him, but in an astonishing double promotion - or coup d’etat - earlier this month, he took
over as Secretary General of the European Commission.
Arguably now the most powerful figure in European politics, and overtly political, Selmayr has never troubled himself with democratic niceties. With his elevation the Commission has effectively gone rogue. The elected leaders are no longer in control.
Perhaps deep down this is what 68 per cent of British farmers understood when they voted to get us out. For me this cannot happen soon enough.