It’s a fair bet Jeremy Corbyn didn’t consciously have the industry at the forefront of his mind with his huffing and puffing refusal to work with Government unless the Brexit ‘no deal’ option was removed. But, unwittingly, he may have. After the overwhelming rejection of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, and refusal to seek an extension to Article 50, the chances of a no-deal departure on March 29 have increased.
And you only have to turn the radio on to hear Parliamentarians making the no-deal case and suggesting it would present a manageable outcome, to which the resilient Brits would soon adjust after two or three years of job losses and belt tightening.
This must be avoided at all costs, says not only the NFUs, but food and trade organisations right across the spectrum. Members of the UK Farming Roundtable (i.e. 14 of the major farming unions, the Tenant Farmers Association, industry councils and associations) ‘categorically do not share such a view’.
And the understandable fear is that defaulting to World Trade Organisation tariffs would put the future of sectors like agriculture at the whim of our lords and masters in Government, where trust and accountability don’t ride high, but where electoral votes and survival do.
Little wonder the NFU is issuing dire warnings about the threat posed by the relaxing of import tariffs, so any food, from anywhere, at different standards to ours, could come in.
The ultimate is that our exports would be taxed at prohibitively high rates, while imports would be tax-free to keep the electorate happy. The dairy industry could be left particularly high and dry, especially in spring, because of its inability to export liquid milk to processing plants abroad when we are maxed out here.
And quite what Northern Ireland will do with the normal milk that crosses the border, let alone any surplus, is anyone’s guess. That’s assuming that Southern Ireland would want it anyway, as the way volumes are trending there, they may be maxed out too.
We are, therefore, facing a situation where the current welcome gains in the marketplace may well fail to have an impact on these shores, being eroded by volumes that cannot be handled and politicians that cannot be influenced!