Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers has said she understands the danger a no-deal Brexit poses for Britain’s agricultural industry but that the Government is on course to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal.
In her first speech since joining the department as part of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle last week, she told the Countryfile Live event today (August 1) she was hopeful a deal with the UK’s biggest trading partner could be reached, but that the time for ‘delay and division was over’.
“We need to get on with it and get it done,” she said, sharing the stage with National Trust director general Hilary McGrady.
“The Prime Minister has been clear he wants a deal but the time for delay and division is over and that is why he has stepped up preparations to leave by October 31 whether an exit treaty is agreed or not.
“We are giving the closest attention to the food and farming businesses as we move towards exit day.
“There are some risks ahead but there will be many opportunities opened up to us as we regain the freedom to make our own laws, as we move forward with an independent trade policy and we create new world leading systems to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy.”
She said she was unsure of the status of the Agriculture Bill, but that it was ‘crucially important’ it appeared before Parliament before the autumn.
Highlighting the ‘opportunities’ available to farmers after Britain leaves the EU, she told the event held in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, that the Government would help farmers become ‘more productive and competitive’, however she could not say what these measures would be.
She did however to hint to a less bureaucratic farming policy ‘designed to meet our domestic needs’.
When asked by FG if that might mean fewer inspections in the future, she said it was ‘absolutely an opportunity to reduce the number of inspections on farm’, adding UK farmers set the standard in producing ‘high quality, safe produced to high standards’.
“We want to see farmers released of the appalling complexity and rigidity and bureaucracy of the CAP so we will press ahead with a new system of support which rewards farmers for environmental stewardship and improving the health and welfare of animals and helps them become more productive and successful,” the Minister added.
She said Defra was working with the Department for International Trade to open up new export markets, highlighting the ‘tremendous success story the UK’s biggest manufacturing industry’ had to tell.
She added: “We should take huge pride in the achievement of our farmers in producing the highest quality food to some of the toughest welfare and safety standards to anywhere in the world and we must always acknowledge farmers are such a vitally important part of the stewardship of our environment.”
Ms Villiers said she had met with NFU president Minette Batters on her farm in the last week and ’fully understood’ farming organisations’ concerns about the implications of crashing out of the EU without a deal.