Amid all the confusion and Brexit fog, one thing has become clear – the Brexit the British people were promised in 2016 is undeliverable, says Julie Girling, South West MEP.
In the run up to the vote on the Prime Minister’s deal and with questions over the longevity of the Government itself, agriculture, like so many areas of critical concern, has been largely overlooked in the political discussion.
Though it is the next part of the negotiating process which will decide the future trading arrangement, the Withdrawal Agreement does give an idea of where the country is heading and will be of interest to those involved in agriculture.
The political declaration suggests the formation of a new Free Trade Area (FTA) with no tariffs, charges or quantitative restrictions across all goods.
Deep regulatory and customs cooperation will be required to ensure a level-playing field within the FTA, and while some customs checks and controls will be in operation, they will depend heavily on the degree of cooperation.
This is not typical in other EU FTA’s, such as South Korea or Canada, that often impose tariffs beyond a certain quantity of imports.
An FTA is likely to be favoured by most involved in agriculture, though checks at the border will inevitably mean friction.
Studies have placed the cost of border friction at a 3-8 per cent increase, figures that could benefit farmers in sectors where we are net importers, such as pork, beef and dairy, but adversely affect exporting sectors, notably sheep.
The Withdrawal Agreement is essentially a trade-off between a lack of restrictions on trade and cooperation with European regulations.
We are currently completely aligned and the British Government has committed to maintaining or improving standards.
However, it has simultaneously agreed to strike ambitious new trade deals and overhaul bureaucratic rules.
It strikes me as insincere to suggest that both can be delivered, particularly when we rely so heavily as a nation on trade with the European Union.
It is inevitable that at the moment of divergence, the EU will find it to be an unfair advantage with a breakdown in cooperation the natural conclusion.
Equally, any FTA between the UK and a third country will mean goods need to be checked if crossing into the EU.
It is because of the above scenario, in part, that the House of Commons is likely to reject the agreement.
The constitutional situation is then anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear from the inherent contradictions that have become apparent: The Brexit promised is simply not deliverable.
Three realistic options have emerged:
Julie can be found tweeting at @juliegirling