Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers has been confronted with stinging criticism after she admitted there would be very little change to the no-deal tariff schedule put together by Theresa May’s Government.
Industry bodies including the NFU, National Pig Association (NPA) and British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) have called for the tariffs on cereals, fruit and vegetables, pork products and eggs to be amended, as they have the potential to undermine domestic producers.
In September, Ms Villiers told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee that the schedule had been ‘reviewed’, but at a Conservative Party Conference NFU event in Manchester this week, she said she was ‘not expecting big changes’.
“I recognise the concerns felt, but we have sought to get the right balance between ensuring we do not have unnecessary food rises and ensuring our agriculture sector is appropriately protected,” she told attendees of the union’s meeting.
“We have kept a number of tariffs in relation to lamb and beef, but the last thing we need is some kind of economic shock caused by a sudden price increase.
“That is the rationale behind the previously published tariff schedule and that is the balance which we will be striving to get with the new tariff schedule when it is published.”
Efra committee chair Neil Parish, who was also on the event panel, was quick to point out farmers would need compensation to be paid ‘immediately’ if the schedule was put in place without changes.
To loud applause from the audience, he said: “You cannot tie the hands of farmers behind their backs so we are having to take imports at no tariff and then export with tariff.
“We will destroy the industry.”
NFU president Minette Batters also hit out at the Secretary of State’s comments, claiming it was untrue that food prices would increase if greater protection was given to cereals and eggs.
“We do not see there would be any food inflation at all,” she said.
“Our ask is we put it in place for the first few months, look at it, analyse it, see if there are any consumer shocks in there, which we do not believe there will be, and then take the next steps from there.
“We are really going to turn up the volume on all of this, because for the eggs sector and the cereals sector, this is going to massively undermine them.”