Farming Minister George Eustice said he was confident the Government’s White Paper and soon-to-be published Agriculture Bill would bring certainty to farm businesses over Brexit trading arrangements.
Speaking at the Great Yorkshire Show (GYS) in Harrogate on Thursday (July 12) Mr Eustice said the long-awaited White Paper clarified the Government’s intention to ensure trade co-operation between the UK and the EU – something the farming unions have described as critical for the country’s farming industry.
“I think the offer we have made is a resolution and will allow us to offer tariff free trade, and frictionless trade at the borders is one that the European Union, if they have any sense, will take up,” Mr Eustice said.
Highlighting the fact there was still a long way to go in negotiations, with nothing yet agreed by the EU, he added: “There will always be some uncertainties because a lot of it is not in our gift. A lot of it is down to the type of agreement we will get with the EU and a lot of it will depend on what European states decide what they want.
“The reason I am confident about this, is the EU wants access to our market - for Irish beef, for Danish bacon, for poultry from the Netherlands, for produce and cheeses from France and Spain and we have a huge trade deficit in food and drink. The EU, particularly in agri food, are very dependent on access.”
The Minister was also cornered by York farmer and GYS show director Charles Mills, who challenged him to ‘give farmers some assurances’ on Brexit.
Mr Mills said: “Quite simply farmers want straight forward talking, straight forward answers, now not in 12 months’ time. We need some reassurances.”
Mr Eustice added: “We can give those reassurances over what we are doing in the UK. We cannot guarantee what the EU is going to do but we can be very clear what our solution is.”
Asked to comment on the recent NFU’s business confidence survey which showed producers’ confidence plummeted when looking towards life after Brexit and the fact some farmers were already packing up farming, Mr Eustice said: “Each individual business must make the decisions that they think are right for them.
“We have said we will guarantee the budget until 2022, that if we make changes to the Single Farm Payment it will be done gradually, probably over at least five years. There will be no drastic changes. We have been clear about the trading relationship we are seeking.
“And we are clear about the direction of travel of our agricultural policy and we will be publishing a Bill in September and more granular design details of the new environmental land management scheme.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove had originally said the Agriculture Bill would appear before Parliament this month, but Mr Eustice said this was a ‘stretching target’ and this had been pushed back.
“The fact that we were publishing the White Paper on a future economic partnership and other issues meant we ran out of time to publish it but we do have a draft of the Agricultural White Paper and we intend to introduce it in the autumn.”
On Defra’s proposed new inspection regime, Mr Eustice said simplifying the farm regulation landscape could involve bringing in a new inspection body which carries out a range of inspections from animal welfare to environmental outcomes. He said the EU had brought with it a complicated rulebook, describing the current approach to regulation being ‘scattergun’ and ‘leaving gaps’.
More on the Government’s interim report on farm inspections here.