British farmers may find themselves without glyphosate or other pesticides because of the UK’s divorce deal, according to NFU vice president Guy Smith.
In the divorce agreement, the UK has promised to ‘maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and customs union’ if a solution to the Irish border issue cannot be agreed in a future EU-UK trade deal or by any other Ireland-specific technical means.
The precise meaning of ‘full alignment’ has already been subject to widespread scrutiny, with different people interpreting it in different ways.
For Defra Secretary Michael Gove, it means common goals can be achieved through different regulatory means – making the agreement compatible with leaving the single market, the customs union and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Speaking to the Today Programme on Radio 4 last week, he said: “What will happen is we will be able to achieve the same goal – for example, high standards of animal health, in order to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, but we have the capacity to achieve the same goal by our own means.”
But others, including Vote Leave frontwoman and former Labour MP Gisela Stuart, have claimed alignment would be single market membership ‘in all but name’, pointing to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which sets precedent for the way Brussels views ‘regulatory alignment’.
“In plain English, in industries covered in the agreement, Ukraine must align itself with EU law and cannot introduce new legislation unless it meets standards set by Brussels”, she wrote in an article for Conservative Home.
Glass half full
Mr Smith told Farmers Guardian such a scenario would be ‘glass half full and half empty’.
“It is glass half full if it maintains a frictionless trading relationship with the EU, that will clearly be good for British agriculture”, he said.
“But at the same time, we are having to abide by regulations over which we have no influence, which will be a bitter pill to swallow.
“It was quite clear the British position on the glyphosate issue was absolutely essential. Without it, we could have lost it, so these are the issues we think we are going to need to start thinking about fairly soon.”
Future trade agreements
David Jones, who was Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the EU for almost a year, told the BBC he was concerned about ‘full alignment’ because it could stop the UK signing new trade deals.
He said: “The worry about this, of course, is it could well related to very important areas such as agriculture, which we would want to throw into the mix in negotiating a free trade agreement with a third country.
“And if this were to persist, then it could severely handicap our ability to enter into those free trade agreements.”
The Irish border ‘solution’ in the deal could have huge knock-on effects for the other devolved regions.
Because the agreement obliges the UK and the EU to look for Irish-specific ways to solve the border problem if it cannot be dealt with in an overall EU-UK trade deal, Scotland is asking for the same treatment.
A tweet from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after the deal was signed hinted at possible future battles as she demanded all UK nations have the same access to any special arrangements made for Northern Ireland.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has also said he expects all devolved nations to be ‘treated the same way’.
As part of the agreement to stump up all the cash owed for the EU budget to 2020 – CAP payments for 2020 will be paid for from the next EU budget – the UK has promised to shell out for its share of ‘net financial corrections and fines imposed’ until December 31 2020.
Asked if this meant the UK would be liable for disallowance fines despite potentially being outside the CAP, a Defra spokesman said ‘we will need to discuss how all of this will work in practice in the next phase of the negotiations’.
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