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LAMMA 2021

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Boris Johnson is close to No 10 - but what would he do for UK ag if he wins the keys?

Boris Johnson edges closer to Number 10 with each passing day, but what would his premiership mean for UK agriculture? Haydon Etherington takes a look.

Despite controversy over his personal life, Boris Johnson remains the favourite to succeed Theresa May next month.


However, due to a leadership race light on substance, little is known of the former Foreign Secretary’s policy platform.


So what would a Johnson premiership hold in store for agriculture?


Johnson’s most notable posts have been in City Hall and the Foreign Office, neither of which have lent themselves to detailed proposals on farming.


In the Commons, he has also had little to say on the matter.


Nevertheless, one area pertinent to Britain’s agriculture has never been far from his mind: Brexit.




The leadership hopeful pledged to deregulate the farming industry after Brexit.


Speaking to cattle farmers during the referendum campaign, Johnson said he wanted to ‘lift the burden’ on British farmers by reforming key EU rules on livestock.


He cited longstanding complaints from the National Sheep Association over controls on sheep with scrapie, a condition the association says poses ‘no evidence of a human health risk’.


This approach is at odds with key members of his inner circle.


Both Carrie Symonds, his partner and likely Number 10 advisor, and Zac Goldsmith, a high-profile supporter and former London Mayoral candidate, run the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.


The Foundation campaigns for more stringent labelling of animal products, as well as bans on cages and live exports.


With a strongly pro-welfare streak emerging at the heart of his government, Johnson will have to juggle his pledges on deregulation and the positions of the Conservative AWF.




Johnson has publicly-held contrasting opinions on farming subsidies.


As part of the Brexit campaign, he promised subsidies will ‘stay as they are’ outside the EU.

This pledge has not yet been realised, as farming subsidies are facing a planned phase-out by 2028.


Whether Johnson would reverse this decision is unclear.


The would-be Prime Minister has lambasted the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.


Standing in opposition to the scheme, he cited the TaxPayers’ Alliance claim that the subsidies cost the average Briton £400 a year in food costs.


To reconcile these stances, Johnson may follow some of his backers, such as Scottish Conservative Colin Clark, in calling for a reformed subsidy system.




According to the NFU, only around 1 per cent of seasonal agricultural workers are British; the vast majority come from EU countries.


Government policy of extending 2,500 seasonal visas to non-EU workers has been met with calls for more to be done.


Johnson has previously said he could relax migration restrictions for European workers, which may be necessary when leaving the EU.


However, the leadership contender’s move towards a hard Brexit will likely collide with the need for temporary farm workers in the near future.




If Johnson is to put forward an amended version of the Withdrawal Agreement, there would be minor disruption for British farmers.


The AHDB have said May’s deal would have minimised disruption for trade, but caused a net loss for farmers of 3-8 per cent.


On the other hand, Johnson may push the UK towards no deal, a move he says is ‘eminently feasible’.


In this instance, British agriculture would suffer tariffs of up to 84 per cent on beef, 57 per cent on cheese and 53 per cent on wheat.


Supporters insist Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) can be enacted, a piece of international law which would keep tariffs at 0 per cent while trade deals are being negotiated.


But trade experts and the Governor of the Bank of England have said this is not true.


Haydon can be found tweeting at @haydon_e

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