The Government needs reminding of the size of the agri-food sector in Brexit negotiations and the industry should seek to influence policy more widely than Defra.
That is the opinion of Lord Don Curry. Speaking at the British Crop Production Council congress, he said: “The agri-food industry is the largest by a mile. It employs lots of people and influences the balance of trade. I support free trade but not unregulated.
“We are a densely populated island with consumer interest in our landscape, concerns about animal welfare and many different challenges to our world competitors; challenges that need to be recognised. I was appalled at Nigel Farage’s comments about importing cheap food. The last thing we need is cheaper food. It is not in anyone’s interest.”
Sitting on a House of Lords committee with responsibility for conversion of EU legislation to domestic law, Lord Curry warned that change was likely to come more slowly than Brexit enthusiasts would like. “We won’t have time for a complete review of all EU law. We will transfer it as it is and change it over time. We need to do it and remove onerous legislation but it will be time consuming and gradual, not instantaneous.”
When working at the Better Regulation Executive (BRE) set up by the Government in 2010 with the aim of reducing the regulatory burden on business, Lord Curry said that government departments varied in their enthusiasm. “In a league table, where did the department formerly led by the current PM sit? Let’s just say it was not at the top.”
Lord Curry said he was concerned about the priority that would be given to agriculture in Brexit negotiations. “I’m not alone in being concerned about our priority. We need to influence Defra and the Government more widely.
"We produce safe, healthy food that that addresses environmental concerns. Defra has two 25-year plans; one for farming of food and one for the environment. We need to break down barriers, not have two strands of policy that put environmentalists in one camp and farmers in another.”
Improving productivity through investing in science and skills was also key in a post-Brexit Britain, said Lord Curry. “We used to be a world leader in agri-food science but cut back on investment in science in the 1990s when the barns were full.
“Skills are critical. We need to improve the professionalism of our industry. We have a variety of standards, numerous awarding bodies, it’s a mess. We need to drive forward the skills agenda and encourage people to aspire.”