Brexit to the fore as election countdown begins

With less than a week to go before the general election, Brexit issues are dominating the national political agenda.

Prime Minister Theresa May warned that the UK would be prepared to walk away from Brexit talks with EU leaders, insisting that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

However, Labour accused the Conservatives of making the UK a “laughing stock” in Europe and insisted that “no deal is a bad deal”.

See also: General election: The view from farmers

Crashing out of the EU without any trade deal would see agriculture reverting to World Trade Organization rules, which could mean customs checks and tariffs for UK food exporters.

No Brexit deal could see UK dairy and meat producers hit with tariffs of between 40% and 65% on exports to the EU, which could threaten the viability of thousands of UK farm businesses.

Farm leaders stressed that securing a free trade deal between the UK and EU post Brexit is essential.

The NFU launched a report on Friday (2 June) highlighting the importance of UK government delivering a good trade deal for agriculture.

The report, A New Outlook on International Trade, set out three core principles for trade:

  • Maintain continued access to the EU single market with minimal tariffs and non-tariff barriers
  • Base negotiations on detailed economic assessments and consult with the industry before offers are exchanged
  • Ensure UK farmers are not put at a competitive disadvantage to overseas producers subject to different standards

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “Achieving the right trade deal will be pivotal to many farming businesses and the country’s ability to produce food.

“With over 70% of the UK’s food and drink exported to the EU, I am very clear that government should seek to establish an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU as a priority.”

CLA delegation

The Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) sent a delegation of UK farmers and landowners to Brussels on Wednesday (31 May) to lobby MEPs, EU officials and trade bodies to strike a free trade deal for farming.

The delegation included Cambridgeshire farmer Tom Green, who is also CEO of Spearhead International, a European farming group supplying food processors, manufacturers and retailers.

He said: “It’s essential that after Brexit we maintain the benefits of a free and frictionless trade deal with the EU, our most important trade partner.

“The ability to move goods, machinery and people across borders is crucial. However, migrant farmworkers will clearly have to be restricted by a workplace visa scheme, which government must design now.”

Meanwhile, Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom has promised to scrap “unnecessary” red tape for farmers if the Conservatives are re-elected on 8 June.

“Our priorities are simple: to grow more, sell more and export more Great British food,” she added.

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