Farming leaders in the South West say they feel let down and betrayed by the region’s MPs, who have not done enough to back the agricultural industry in the run-up to Brexit.
There is grave concern at the disruption that it is very possible could hit farmers in the next few weeks, and the distinct lack of action from Government in terms of helping the industry and the wider supply chain cope with the potential business, marketplace and operational shocks.
In fact the opposite seems to have occurred. The tariff safeguards for a number of key agricultural sectors, including grains, eggs, fruit and vegetables and a number of dairy products would be removed in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Not only will the government’s approach put significant additional financial pressure on farming families at precisely the time they will be facing enormous challenges from a no-deal Brexit, but it also risks the country being flooded with imports produced to standards that would be illegal for UK farmers. This would undermine the marketplace, putting incomes, future investments and any response to trade opportunities at risk.
Speaking on behalf of all the NFU’s South West county chairmen, Devon’s Mark Weekes, who is also regional chairman, said: “Farmers’ backs are against the wall, both financially and emotionally, and at the moment I am not sure how we are going to cope with what might be about to happen, because despite the warm words we are offered when politicians meet with us, they don’t seem inclined to do anything to safeguard our industry.”
“We are absolutely not anti-Brexit, but we are concerned about the consequences of no-deal. What we need to see is some concrete support for the industry to mitigate the short and longer-term shocks that a no-deal Brexit will inevitably bring to our supply chains, allied trades and the wider rural economy. To be clear, any Brexit must be orderly to enable our fantastic agri-food sector to flourish.
“Farming is an essential part of the region’s economy, we produce food to some of the highest standards in the world and the environmental work we do means we can be a big part of the solution to climate change. We have to make sure we are still here in the long-term, to carry on this work and take advantage of the trade opportunities that Brexit will bring.
“That will not happen if agriculture has been cut off at the knees thanks to the inaction of politicians. MPs are always keen to say they have our backs, but on this issue at least they clearly don’t. It is time for them to defend and protect the industry they say they care so much about. I would urge all farmers to challenge their MPs and ask them what they intend to do about this issue.”
According to figures compiled by Defra, farming is worth just over a billion pounds every year to the South West, with a gross output of £3.2 billion. More than 60,000 people are directly employed in agriculture. The landscape that farmers care for is a big draw for the tourists who bring a further £7 billion pounds to the region’s economy.