The Government must set out a clear, integrated plan for food in order to protect the UK’s food security after Brexit, says Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman.
As the Member of Parliament for a rural constituency in the North of England, I regularly speak to farmers about the agricultural issues concerning them.
In July, I visited the Great Yorkshire Show, and had the opportunity to discuss with farmers from across the North a range of matters.
One topic which keeps coming up is the difficult subject of the effect of post-Brexit trade on our agricultural sector.
A long-term decline in Britain’s self-sufficiency has left us currently only producing half of the food we eat.
We need Government policy in place which can stimulate our home-grown food production.
But we are still waiting for proper clarity on the impact of the Prime Minister’s Chequers agreement on food and drink imports and exports post-Brexit, and on the future of food safety and quality standards.
Future customs arrangements will be key for our food and drink sector, but given the reports that Defra Secretary Michael Gove attempted to physically rip up Theresa May’s preferred customs options, it is clear that the big decisions for the negotiations are still a long way from being agreed.
We are unprepared for the most complex ever change to our food system, and Brexit risks increasing food prices, lowering safety and welfare standards, causing food shortages, and worsening a public health crisis in Britain.
The Government needs to be able to mitigate these potential problems – and it is critical that we have solutions before exit day next March.
My colleagues on the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee have concluded that a no-deal Brexit outcome would have a ‘seismic impact’, and this is particularly true when it comes to food security.
Ministers need to take urgent action to produce a clear, integrated plan for food, including clarification on food crossing borders, particularly the Irish border.
We regularly hear warm words from the likes of Michael Gove and Trade Secretary Liam Fox, but it is obvious to anyone who talks regularly to farmers that the agricultural sector just is not convinced by their rhetoric.
Just before Parliament broke for the summer recess, MPs voted on amendments at report stage of the Government’s Trade Bill.
This included an amendment, tabled by backbench Conservatives and supported by Labour, which would have meant the UK remains in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit.
Unfortunately, the Government voted the amendment down.
A customs union would negate the need for a hard border with Ireland, and would allow free-flowing trade, benefitting businesses both in the UK and economies in the EU.
A final Brexit deal which gives us access to the single market and a customs union is the right thing to do, and is still a viable option.
Avoiding tariffs and enabling businesses to succeed will result in real growth in the agricultural sector right across Britain.
Sue can be found tweeting at @SueHayman1