The UK Livestock Brexit Group (UKLBG) has warned the UK is not adequately prepared to avoid ‘serious trade disruption’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The group, which includes bodies from the devolved nations, met Defra officials last week and were left concerned that Government systems are not in place and there is an absence of practical contingency plans.
In a joint statement, the UKLBG said a failure to maintain access to the EU market could see poultry, pork, lamb and beef prices collapse and cause animal welfare issues on farm.
Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association (NSA) said: “We have always known the sheep sector is particularly vulnerable in a no-deal scenario, but with two months to go before we could potentially crash out, it is very sobering to discover how much still needs doing.”
In Wales, the Welsh Government cancelled all normal business on Tuesday (January 22) to highlight the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
Ministers are already preparing a contingency plan for the sheep sector, but at a media briefing in Cardiff, Rural Affairs Secretary Lesley Griffiths refused to provide any detail about what was in the plan, saying it was still ‘being worked up’.
Both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) have raised concerns about being excluded from the planning process, but Ms Griffiths denied this was the case, pointing to a round table meeting the unions had participated in last week.
NFU Cymru deputy president Aled Jones, however, told Farmers Guardian this was ‘the first and only official engagement’ the union had on the issue.
“It is clear Welsh Government’s no-deal Brexit planning needs to be ramped up considerably, and engaging with the Welsh agricultural industry over these plans needs to be a priority moving forward,” he added.
An FUW spokesman pointed out the group had been calling for contingency planning to be put in place since before the EU referendum.
“From what we now understand, the Welsh Government contingency planning group or groups are internal and no industry representatives from the supply chain have been asked to sit on them,” the spokesman said.
“This is a departure from past practice, such as during the Foot and Mouth disease outbreaks in 2001 and 2007, and in our view, such groups should include industry representatives – especially given the invaluable experience of individuals who have been through past emergencies.”
After seeing Farmers Guardian’s report, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Llyr Gruffydd quizzed Ms Griffiths in the Senedd about the unions’ involvement in no-deal Brexit planning.
Under questioning, the Minister admitted a scenario planning sub-committee had been sitting for two and a half years.
She told the Senedd she ‘did not know’ whether the unions had representation on the committee, but NFU Cymru have since confirmed they do not.
Speaking to FG after the session, Mr Gruffydd said: “If the Minister who is meant to be in charge of rural affairs does not even know whether the farming unions are on the planning sub-group looking in detail at Brexit scenarios, then it does not inspire much confidence that the Welsh Government are ready for Brexit.
“Farming unions represent agricultural interests and need to be at the heart of any plans for Brexit.”
NFU Cymru deputy president Mr Jones said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ not to be part of crucial discussions.
“We find it staggering that Welsh Government would not seek counsel from the farming unions who represent the people and businesses who would be most impacted by a no-deal Brexit,” he added.