Royal Welsh Show 2016: Defra minister promises EU market access and support

Farmers have been assured they will have good access to EU markets and a reliable supply of seasonal workers, despite the recent Brexit vote.

Defra minister George Eustice, who was attending the Royal Welsh Show on Wednesday (20 July), dismissed recent claims by EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan that the UK would have to leave the EU first before trade negotiations could begin.

“A trade agreement will be in place before that happens,” Mr Eustice told Farmers Weekly.

“We plan to start negotiations with our European counterparts quite soon, and discuss what the new policies will look like.”

See also: UK likely to face tariffs post-Brexit, warns EU commissioner

One stumbling block to market access could be the government’s desire to also limit immigration, but Mr Eustice was quick to give an assurance on this.

“It is not true that you have to have a totally free movement of people to have a free-trade agreement,” he said.

“We have arrangements with other countries in the world that don’t have this requirement attached.

It is not true that you have to have a totally free movement of people to have a free-trade agreement George Eustice, Defra

“It is quite possible to put in place arrangements that enable people to come here on work visas without having a complete free-for-all.

“All these issues are ours to negotiate.”

‘Properly funded budget’

Although he gave no guarantee that the existing £3.7bn of European support for UK agriculture would be maintained, he said there would be a “properly funded agriculture budget” making use of some of the £9bn no longer sent to Brussels.

“It is too early to say what shape it will take,” said Mr Eustice.

“But we don’t want something that recreates the CAP with its badly thought-out policies.”

With UK agriculture dependent on immigrant labour, Mr Eustice suggested that a scheme similar to the defunct Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme could be established.

“This is an issue for the negotiation and for the Home Office to consider.

“There are established ways of issuing permits for seasonal workers,” he said.

Promotion

Mr Eustice was speaking during one of his first engagements after being promoted to minister of state at Defra in prime minister Theresa May’s reshuffle, having previously been a parliamentary undersecretary.

He now reports to fellow Brexiter Andrea Leadsom, who replaced Liz Truss as secretary of state at the department.

Both politicians were involved in the launch of the Fresh Start Group five years ago, advocating EU budget cuts and reform of the CAP.

During the EU referendum campaign, Mrs Leadsom indicated that “the UK government will give you the same money when we leave the EU”.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said she must keep her promise on this, while NFU president Meurig Raymond demanded that farmers involved in agri-environment schemes must still be paid in full.

“We need a continuing commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy,” he added.