Farm groups have welcomed a new parliamentary inquiry which will assess Defra’s readiness for Brexit.
MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have chosen to examine the department’s preparedness in the wake of a National Audit Office (NAO) report which found the risk of Defra failing to deliver all of its Brexit tasks in the event of a no-deal scenario was ‘high’.
The NAO report also concluded that for some projects, such as negotiating agreements with non-EU countries to accept UK versions of export health certificates, Defra had ‘passed the point’ where it would be able to deliver what it initially planned for a no-deal Brexit.
Now the PAC plans to build on the NAO’s findings, exploring the challenges Defra has faced and the impact this has had on its original Brexit plans.
The MPs will also examine the key areas where the department is not ready for a no-deal exit and what can be done to accelerate planning before the UK leaves the EU.
Guy Smith, deputy president of the NFU, said: “The NFU has described a no-deal scenario as a catastrophe for British agriculture. Some have accused us of exaggerating or being part of some sort of ‘project fear’.
“We stand by our extreme concerns and we welcome this PAC inquiry based on the NAO study, which highlighted Defra’s lack of preparedness in the case of no-deal.
“We would remind the PAC this must not just be about imports, but also about exports, which are crucial to many sectors of UK agriculture.”
CLA director of policy Chris Price pointed out Defra is one of the Government departments most substantially affected by Brexit and said it had ‘recognised the scope of the challenge’.
“We are pleased the department is recruiting a significant number of qualified people, but there are lots of highly complicated evolving issues and it is crucial Defra is ready to get to grips with all of them very quickly so disruption to farming, rural businesses and the environment is kept to a minimum,” he added.
The PAC will take evidence from Defra’s top civil servant, Claire Moriarty, and David Kennedy, the department’s director general for food, farming, animal and plant health, among others.