In trying to find a middle road which is not out of the EU and not in the EU, the Brexit deal is pleasing nobody, says Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association.
What a time to write a blog for the FG Brexit hub – just on the verge of something major happening.
Following a few weeks of relative silence, and with the Chequers plan all but forgotten about, we are at a point when Theresa May is having another stab at getting a plan agreed by her Cabinet and MPs.
During this period of silence, there has been a scurry of work going on behind the scenes and Mrs May has now managed to achieve ‘a deal’ with the EU.
But there has been no real change in what has become the real challenge – getting agreement here at home. Jo Johnson has now resigned his role as Transport Secretary, and the Brexit Secretary and Work and Pensions Secretary have followed him out of the door.
While his brother Boris resigned because he felt plans were a disaster for Britain from a leave perspective, Transport Secretary Jo Johnson has now resigned with exactly the same concerns, but from a remain perspective.
So our position is neither pleasing the leavers nor the remainers, and herein lies a huge problem.
We are trying to find a middle road that is not out, nor really in, and if we are honest that is where we have been for the last few decades – officially part of the EU but philosophically not. Maybe we are no further on at all.
In business, taking the middle ground and not being one thing or the other is rarely a good place to be. It smacks of uncertainty and you often get all the costs but not all the rewards.
But at least the mood now seems to be settling on the need to get a deal, and for our sheep industry in particular that is essential.
Crashing out and potentially losing complete access to the EU from the end of March, for an undetermined time, would be an unmitigated disaster.
Regaining access and paying tariffs may not be much better, and just like we warned months ago we could end up sacrificing some of our industries for supposedly greater gain.
Not even recognition that food and farming combined is our largest manufacturing industry gives me total confidence that the big decisions will favour the UK’s sheep industry.
A month ago, alongside the rush of the Government’s technical notices preparing for a no-deal, the NSA issued its own.
I wanted people to be considering now what we could do if we suddenly lost our EU access at the end of March.
Remember that 35 – 40 per cent of our production is exported and 96 per cent of this goes to the EU.
While work is going on to develop new trade routes, this simply cannot replace the volume in the foreseeable future.
Some of what we suggest might sound like desperation and would undoubtedly be challenged, but it is inconceivable that we could suddenly lose our export routes and continue to import lamb onto our shores.
It also seems inconceivable that we could survive without financial support if a tariff of around 50 per cent of value was added to our exported sheepmeat.
We might need to store lamb (live or frozen) to flatten our seasonal supply, and we could easily change public procurement rules so UK lamb could be the product of choice for our armed services, hospitals and schools.
For all this and more, we would need Government support and it would be a very early test of their resolve.