As the Prime Minister triggered Article 50, farming groups lined up to stress the importance of working together to achieve shared aims such as access to the single market and the need for a competent workforce in the face of ‘frustratingly sparse’ detail from Government.
The NFU, National Pig Association and Tenant Farmers’ Association all called for high food production standards to be maintained as Britain looks to do new deals with countries around the world, but the Trade Secretary’s comments in parliament about an ‘open global trading environment’ lowering the price of food dampened those hopes.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: “Despite constant reassurances to us by Defra Ministers, it is clear there are serious divisions at the Government top table, with conflicts between valuing the UK’s high-standard farming and food industry and following a cheap food policy which pushes environmental, welfare and social problems out of sight.”
The fears were exacerbated by the release of a new Rabobank report which said a New Zealand-style model for British agriculture would be ‘consistent with the UK’s historically pro-free trade approach’, but would also reduce food security.
In Wales, the Welsh Rural Affairs Committee echoed the concerns of farming groups on access to the single market and labour.
It also called for the Welsh Government to have an ‘equal voice’ at the negotiating table and said there should be ‘parity of esteem’ between the UK and devolved administrations.
NFU Scotland’s director of policy Jonnie Hall agreed. He said: “NFUS is crystal clear any approach which drops a ‘Defra-centric’, one-size-fits-all policy on to the devolved nations would be unacceptable.
“The needs of Scottish farmers and crofters must be put ahead of political posturing.”
The demands came as former cabinet Minister Michael Gove said Brexit should be used to scrap ‘absurd’ regulations such as the Habitats Directive which prevent rural houses being built.
CLA president Ross Murray claimed there were other, bigger, barriers stopping new builds but said the Government should work to implement the rules better to avoid farmer frustration over developments.
On the continent, European farmers’ group Copa and Cogeca said it ‘regretted’ the UK’s decision to launch Brexit proceedings and claimed farmers and agri-businesses in the EU and UK would be ‘hit hard’.
The group pointed out the UK was a net importer of agri-food products and a net contributor to the EU budget - adding new ways to maintain the Common Agricultural Policy budget must be found.
Copa and Cogeca secretary-general Pekka Pesonen said: “Copa and Cogeca have serious concerns about the potential trade and budget impact of Brexit on European farmers and their cooperatives. We believe that farmers and their families should not have to pay the price of Brexit.”
He also called on the UK Government to ‘honour its commitments in the current EU budget framework and programmes it subscribed to which go beyond 2020’.