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What could Boris Johnson being Prime Minister mean for UK farming?

As Boris Johnson is announced as the new Conservative leader and UK Prime Minister, we look for clues about what might happen next. 

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What could Boris Johnson being Prime Minister mean for UK farming?

No-deal Brexit

Perhaps the biggest concern is that Mr Johnson has said he would leave the EU without a deal, in order to meet the October 31 withdrawal deadline.


The NFU has repeatedly warned that a no-deal Brexit would be ‘catastrophic’ for UK farming, mainly because of its reliance on trade with the EU. This is particularly so for the livestock sectors.


Mr Johnson has branded fears over no-deal as scare mongering and said the economic warnings (£90bn costs to the economy, according to the chancellor, Philip Hammond) are ‘wildly over done’.


Speaking to farmers in Cumbria on July 9, Mr Johnson said: “We have to prepare to come out without a deal - the way to do that is to ensure farmers have proper protections and they are given the insulation they need.”


But so far, he has failed to give any specifics about what protections he would give.

More recently, he has insisted that a deal with the EU could be reached by October 31 if the country ‘rediscovers its sense of mission’.


But commentators and some fellow Tories have said there is no reason why Mr Johnson could get a better deal than Theresa May. Plus, the EU has said it is not up for another negotiation.


Mr Johnson has repeatedly claimed that current UK-EU trading terms could be maintained under Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) while a future trade deal is negotiated. But this has widely been disputed as not possible.


Scottish farming


Mr Johnson has pledged to give £160m in ‘back payments’ to Scottish farmers, who have long claimed they were short-changed by the British Government’s handling of EU convergence funding.


He said a consultation with the Scottish Government would take place to hand the money to farmers as quickly as possible.


In a recent letter to NFU Scotland, he said: “We need a Brexit that creates the right conditions for farming in Scotland to thrive, and that works as best as it can for the 8,500 agricultural businesses the length and breadth of Scotland you represent.”


But speaking at last month’s Royal Highland Show, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, warned ‘Boris would be a disaster for Scotland’, and that he showed a ‘centralising tendency which runs counter to devolution’.

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Farming support and rural areas


In a letter to NFU Scotland, Mr Johnson said: “Taking back control of our agriculture policy gives us a unique opportunity to make real improvements in domestic production. It is important now, more than ever, to champion a One Nation agenda that will invest in all parts of our United Kingdom and give everyone a stake in our country’s future.”


In answers to questions from the Countryside Alliance earlier this month, he said he was ‘fully supportive of making sure that rural communities are not left behind through lack of connectivity’, and has said more funds would be made available ‘to address imbalances that affect rural communities’.


He also pledged to ensure rural community concerns are considered in policies, and that future environmental policies outside the EU support upland landscapes and communities.


On protecting farmers against animal rights activities, Mr Johnson told the Countryside Alliance: “While I am committed to protecting animal welfare, I will not tolerate extremism, intimidation and abuse irrespective of the motives that drive it. I will consider any recommendations that come from the Commission [for Countering Extremism].”

Access to labour


“We need an Australian-style points-based system, and levels of immigration should reflect the particular needs of the sectors concerned,” Mr Johnson said in a letter to NFU Scotland.


“This will be a focus of the review into the UK’s immigration system that I will commission, to ensure that every sector and industry in the economy has access to the workers that it



“I have always been in favour of talented people being able to come to this country and make their lives here.”

Trade and food standards


A no-deal Brexit, which Mr Johnson could well oversee, would throw the UK’s trading relationship with the EU into the unknown. Farming organisations have warned this could be a disaster.


But Mr Johnson has long said that leaving the EU would open up trade with the rest of the world, and more recently said he thought ‘we should be turbo-charging [food exports] after Brexit’.


In a letter to NFU Scotland, he said: “I will be aiming to ensure that we have a trade deal that minimises friction on the cross-border transfer of goods, while ensuring that our border is secure.


“I am aware of the disruption that delays could have, and will be working to minimise the potential for delays through rigorous planning.”


Where he stands on food standards is unclear. Last week, he blasted the EU’s food standards as ‘regulatory overkill’ which he said he would end after Brexit.


But a week before, he told a chicken farmer he would insist the US adhere to high standards in any trade deal, and has said he would look to ‘boost standards, enhance consumer safety and encourage domestic production’.


His close relationship with Donald Trump has caused both anxiety and hope in farming. Some say this will give the UK the edge on negotiating the trade deal that Mr Trump has promised. But many are concerned that Mr Johnson would allow open access to cheap imports produced to lower standards.


Under Theresa May, Downing Street has insisted ‘we will not lower our food standards’, a statement reiterated by Defra Secretary Michael Gove numerous times, but Mr Trump has been courting Mr Johnson for a while, and his trade team have been open about the need to change UK food standards to allow a trade deal to happen.


Mr Johnson has also hinted he could ban live animal exports after Brexit, saying that the industry was a ‘really terrible business for these animals’, according to the Huffington Post.


The Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned that banning the live export of farm animals would be ‘completely unworkable’, as up to 50 per cent of Northern Irish lambs are exported to the Republic of Ireland.

Irish border


Mr Johnson has been criticised for his lack of clarity on what would happen at the Irish border in the event of Brexit, preferring to say he could find a technological solution.

For farming, this is a huge uncertainty, as many good and livestock cross the border daily, and it could become an open border for cheaper food produced to lower standards.


In his recent Daily Telegraph column, he said: “If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border.”


Mike Hedges, Swansea East AM and chairman of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, (CCERA), recently wrote for FG’s Brexit hub.


He said: “If we have no border checks, this will be a way for any country in the world which does not have a deal with the EU to export to Britain, then via the Irish border into the EU without tariffs and quotas.”


Last week, the Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney said that Ireland would have to put customs checks in place in the event of a no deal Brexit, according to the BBC.




What about Mr Johnson’s cabinet team? Michael Gove has been tipped for a top job such as Foreign Secretary or Northern Ireland Secretary, but has said he wants to stay on in his role at Defra.


If Mr Gove was to be replaced, the drive behind the Agricultural Bill might falter, or perhaps change direction once the detail has to be worked on.


Foreign Secretary and Chancellor will also be important for farming - the first for working out the UK’s future relationship with the EU and trade partners such as the US, and the second for working with the Defra Secretary to allocate resources and funding to farming, including farm payments.


Chancellor Philip Hammond previously said he would resign if Boris won the leadership race.

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