Farming Minister George Eustice has attempted to address concerns about the timetable for leaving the EU but has warned farmers not to expect immediate freedom from current EU legislation.
The UK is on course to leave the EU before 2020 but, initially, most of the regulation currently affecting farmers is likely to be still in place.
Responding to suggestions by Lord Don Curry that the complex process of leaving the EU could take ‘years and years’, creating huge uncertainty for the industry, Mr Eustice said he believed it could all be wrapped relatively quickly.
The Cornwall MP said, while the timings would ultimately be a matter for the next Prime Minister, there ‘seems to be a great deal of logic’ in trying to secure political agreement on the ‘big ticket items’, such as a Free Trade Agreement, before Article 50 is formally triggered.
Once it is triggered, Article 50, the formal process by which the UK will leave the EU, ‘is supposed to take a maximum of two years’, Mr Eustice told journalists at the Livestock Event in Birmingham.
“My view is that is doable,” Mr Eustice said. "It is quite likely we will be out by 2020 in my view and it could even be sooner than that."
But he suggested farmers should not expect this to mean they would be immediately free of the regulation currently governing them from Brussels.
“Lord Curry is right on one level,” Mr Eustice said. “There is a huge amount of legislation inspired by all those European Directives, from the Nitrates Directive, the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.
“But there is an emerging consensus that the wrong thing to do would be to scrap all of that and then begin from scratch.
“The right thing to do is probably to retain those national regulations, place them on a legal basis in UK law, initially and then over time, which could be a period of 10 or 15 years, you might seek to improve and refine and enhance them and make them more fit-for-purpose.
“So I think there are certain things you need to do quickly, such as a Free Trade Agreement and certain things you can sort out over a longer time period. We have been in this European Union for 45 years now – we don’t have to tear everything up overnight.
“There will be an opportunity to refine some of the legacy of that European law over a more relaxed time period.”
Earlier, Lord Curry, a former advisor to Defra who formulated a new industry blueprint in the early 2000s, urged the Government to set out a clear timetable for the Brexit process.
Lord Curry, RABDF president said: “Nobody has left before so we don’t know how that works in terms of our own Government and the role of Parliament.
"At present probably 50 per cent of our regulation emanates form Brussels and in agriculture it is probably higher.
"All of this will have to be reviewed and either adopted or changed and that will take a lot of Parliament’a time. It is going to be a huge undertaking.
"There is a serious risk this could become really complex and could drag on for years and years. So it could take five years – I have no idea.
“The Government needs to set to set out a timetable as soon as possible with certain deadlines and the transition is crucial so we don’t de-stabilise farming businesses or the food chain in general.
"The Government needs to adhere to timetables otherwise this could just slip and slip."
Lord Curry also stressed the need for the industry to be fully involved in developing a post-Brexit policy for agriculture.
He said: "It is going to require some serious vision about our position in the global market.
"It is a clean sheet of paper and we can also start to look at all the alternatives for how farmers should be supported.
"We need to ensure the policy design and outcomes are something the industry buys into.
"Unles industry has ownership of the solution it really won’t work. To have a government impose a solution will just be unacceptable."