Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom’s refusal to provide any concrete answers on the Government’s Brexit plan reduced farmers and landowners to laughter at the CLA’s Rural Business Conference in Westminster this week.
Mrs Leadsom was full of positive messages about providing the right foundations to support the ambitions of rural businesses, but her lack of clarity on a post-Brexit future for the rural economy left the audience frustrated.
She said: “There is no doubt that without a strong and successful rural economy there can be no such thing as a thriving British economy.
“There is plan A, which is let’s make things absolutely smooth and continuous. And there are plans B and C – let’s all look at the possible outcomes for the UK.
“My expectation and my aspiration is that this gets better – not worse.”
Mrs Leadsom gave a similarly muddy answer when asked if the UK was likely to see a cliff edge when it leaves the EU, saying: ‘absolutely not… necessarily’.
The confusion continued as she said paying for access to the single market ‘may or may not be one of the negotiating positions’ following Brexit Secretary David Davis’ admission it was under consideration by the Government last week.
But despite the lack of clarity, Mrs Leadsom may have conceded ministers have given up entirely on the UK remaining in the single market, saying she was looking to facilitate continued access to EU markets with ‘low tariffs and low non-tariff barriers’.
Membership of the single market allows UK businesses to trade in the EU with no tariffs or non-tariff barriers.
This would be a big disappointment to farming unions, who only last week wrote to the Prime Minister with a coalition of food producers to call for unfettered access to the single market.
Mrs Leadsom’s comments came as the Prime Minister was forced to open up her Brexit plan to scrutiny by parliament to stop Tory rebels backing a Labour Party motion in parliament.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer described the move as a ‘big climb-down’, but a Government amendment to the motion which accepted examination of the plan as long as it ‘does not undermine the negotiating position’ could allow ministers to continue to conceal the main bulk of detail.