The Prime Minister visited a Welsh farm on Friday to discuss the EU referendum. He told FG a Conservative Government would continue to support UK farmers but said the risks in terms of trade were huge.
A Conservative Government would continue to provide financial support to farmers if the UK voted to leave the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged.
But in an interview with Farmers Guardian, the Prime Minister warned Brexit would bring risk, uncertainty and additional costs to the farming industry.
On Friday, Mr Cameron visited a north Wales beef and sheep farm to set out his arguments for why UK farming would be better off remaining in the EU, ahead of the June Referendum.
After a tour of the farm, including a visit to the lambing sheds, and exchanging views on Europe with farmers round the kitchen table, Mr Cameron reassured the industry a Conservative Government would have a ‘plan B’ when it comes to replacing the Common Agricultural Policy in the event of Brexit.
He said: “If Britain votes to leave we would have to put in place an agricultural support system. I am very pro-countryside and pro-farming and, as Prime Minister, I would make sure that happens.
“But I would say to farmers you are giving up the certainty of what we have now with the uncertainty of the future.”
He suggested things could be different under a Labour Government.
“If you look at what Jeremy Corbyn offers with a vegan agriculture spokesman, are you really certain, if the alternatives get in, you are going to have the sort of support in the countryside we have today?”
But the key message Mr Cameron sought to get across was ‘the risk and uncertainty’ for farmers when it comes to the vital trade the UK currently enjoys with the EU.
He said it was ‘naïve’ to suggest similar equivalent arrangements to those we have in place now could be easily negotiated.
This included a rapid retort to London Mayor and prominent ‘leave’ campaigner Boris Johnson, who had suggested on Friday the UK could negotiate a new trade deal with the EU along the lines of that negotiated by Canada, which eliminates 98 per cent of tariffs between the two trading blocs.
Mr Cameron said: “Today we have got access to a market of 500 million consumers without tariffs, without quotas, without any barriers.
“And you have got to look at the alternatives. (UKIP leader) Nigel Farage said we should go to WTO rules. If you do that, you have tariffs on dairy on lamb on beef and huge damage to farmers.”
Relying on WTO rules would bring extra costs of £240m per year for British beef exports and an extra £90m for British lamb exports as a result of these tariffs, he said.
He added: “If you have what Boris is suggesting today, a Canada style free trade deal, it sounds good but it has taken seven years to negotiate, seven years of potential uncertainty.
“Then of course, even with the Canada deal, you don’t have quota free access for things like beef or dairy or poultry.
“For farmers there is a very clear argument, don’t swap the certainty of a 500 million person market for the uncertainty of the alternative.”
Responding to Farming Minister George Eustice’s suggestion re-negotiating a trade deal with the EU along the lines of the current arrangements would be straightforward, Mr Cameron said it was ‘naïve’ to think other member states would give UK farmers an easy ride.
He said: “What happens is you have a two-year window to negotiate the arrangement and, at the end of those two years, unless every other country agrees, you end all your existing trade arrangements and you go to WTO rules, so I think it is a very great risk and a very great danger for farmers.
“Where I think the leave campaign have got themselves in a muddle is they seem to be arguing this organisation is absolutely terrible and we must leave, but on the other hand, as soon as we have left, the people we are leaving are going to give us a sweetheart deal.
“Why is that going to happen? Wouldn’t French farmers want a share of the Welsh dairy industry, wouldn’t Italian farmers want a share of the British lamb industry?
“I think it is naïve, frankly, to think everything would be plain sailing outside the EU. We would be giving up access to an enormous market.”
The Welsh farmers who hosted Mr Cameron were impressed with what they heard.
Brothers Richard and David Williams and their families farm 1,000 acres, with 3,500 breeding ewes and about 200 sucklers in a picturesque part of north Wales, near Corwen, in Denbighshire.
Mr Cameron’s visit on a glorious spring day, lasting well over an hour, was organised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW), which has already stated its position for staying in the EU.
Richard Williams said: “They said it would only take 10 minutes but it too lot longer.
“But he was good. He was genuinely interested, he wanted to know everything that as going on and how we felt.
“I hadn’t thought about it a lot before today but, after speaking to him, I think it is quite important we stay in Europe because our lambs rely heavily on the EU market and we couldn’t carry on without our payments that come from Europe.
“He told us, if he was in power, even if we came out, he would still guarantee he would provide payments. He didn’t say on what level but he said if Labour get in, God knows what would happen.
“It’s better the devil you know. At least in Europe you know what you are getting.
“We talked about the rules and regulations that come from Europe but he said those rules and regulations would be there if you are out of Europe or in Europe.
“I can’t see why we would want to come out of Europe. We have got a guaranteed market.”
FUW president Glyn Roberts explained why the union organised the meeting.
He said: “We are singing from the same hymn book because we are also adamant we want to stay in Europe.
“At the moment about 30 per cent of our lambs are exported to Europe. We need that trade. If we left we would need to have a tariff put on the lamb so we get less money for it.
“Our PGI status helps us get a premium for the lamb we sell but that is a European mark and we would lose it.
“And we would not get the same support we get now under the CAP. Both Labour and the Conservatives have tried to cut the CAP.
"If we left, we would lose that money, which is very important for agriculture and other rural businesses as well - lots of people in the wider economy benefit from our subsidies."