Maeve Whyte, Director, British Agriculture Bureau (BAB), takes stock after history was made today:
After a long night which became an even longer day, we have a result and not the one that most people were expecting. It is quite strange to finally have a decision on the referendum; I’ve been the director of the NFU’s Brussels office for almost ten years, and talk about the Referendum has been rumbling consistently throughout that time.
Whether you voted to leave or not, an historic new chapter is about to begin. No member state has ever left the European Union and so we are truly in the midst of uncharted territory.
Members should not be worried that things will change immediately. Existing rules will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Even though we now have a decision, the speculation over when ‘Article 50’ will be activated is headline news.
Article 50 refers to an element of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union – it formally fires the starting gun on our withdrawal process.
Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated that this process will not begin until his successor is in place later in the year, although many European Leaders want the gun fired straight away.
Until we have certainty, NFU staff in Brussels will be working closely with commission staff and Members of the European Parliament to provide members with the most accurate picture possible.
See also: Viewpoint from our Brussels
Having been in Brussels since 1972, the NFU has a wide network of contacts in Europe. Now that our exit from the EU is confirmed, we will need to make the most of this network and ensure that we use it to the full. We will need to answer their questions too – no one has ever left the European Union and so there are many concerned colleagues in Brussels today.
This network of contacts across Europe is going to be essential to us now. In or out of Europe it pays to know what others are doing so we can learn from their successes and mistakes!
Shortly after the result was announced, my team arranged for a call between NFU President Meurig Raymond and Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Meurig’s message to the Commissioner is that UK farmers need the best possible access to European markets. It will be essential to ensure that UK produce is protected from imports of lower standards – a point which will also be made vocally to the Secretary of State.
Forty years is a long time to be together and it is mind boggling to think about how UK agriculture policy might look in the future. The key is to stay calm, put our heads down and work our way through it in a typical professional NFU fashion.