EU referendum: Farmers Weekly’s view

People entering a voting booth on 23 June will be taking part in arguably the most important political event in a generation.

Farmers Weekly has been biding its time trying to ascertain what would be the best outcome from this historic referendum on the UK’s future membership of the EU.

Phil Clarke Phil Clarke
Executive editor

Even though our hunch has always been that a “Remain” vote would be the best option for farming, we were keen to hear more from the “Leave” camp.

See also: Analysis: Why a Brexit might not end farm red tape

Over recent weeks we have explored the four most important elements of the debate – trade, support, labour and regulation.

Each has its own complexities, but in each case, the weight of argument seems to come down in
favour of “Remain”.


Take trade. Leave campaigners say there is nothing to worry about; the UK will find new outlets beyond Europe, while the EU will also be keen to do a free-trade deal with us.

In time, that may be possible.

The more likely outcome, however, is that, in a post-Brexit world, the UK government would seek even greater trade liberalisation, cutting tariffs and exposing farmers to tougher competition from the world’s cheapest producers.

Farm support

Similarly on farm support, there have been many promises from the Leave camp that, with money no longer going to Brussels, the UK government will be well-placed to spend more on farmers and rural businesses. That is unlikely.

The UK government’s track record in Europe has been to rein in subsidies.

It is easy to imagine a post-Brexit world in which British farmers have to compete with their EU neighbours, but without the same direct payments.


On labour, it is easy to sympathise with the desire to see tighter controls on our borders. But the big concern here is the extent to which British agriculture is dependent on migrant labour, especially from other EU member states.

Limiting access may impact the ability to harvest certain crops, and will certainly drive up costs.


Finally, there is regulation. Again, the Leave campaigners talk of cutting red tape and designing a system better suited to our needs.

But history tells us civil servants in Westminster are every bit as enthusiastic as their counterparts in Brussels when it comes to designing over-complex rules and regulations.

They also have a penchant for gold plating.

Many grassroots farmers want out

Despite all this, the reader survey we conducted in April suggested a majority of grassroots farmers still want out.

But what was also clear from our survey was that those farmers who want to leave the EU are influenced by issues that go beyond the farmgate – sovereignty, immigration and national security, to name but a few.

That is as it should be. Clearly, standing in the voting booth on 23 June will be a personal, even emotional, experience. Multiple factors will have to be considered. Gut feeling will also play a part.

But if farming prosperity is your number-one concern, then a vote to remain seems to be the preferable option.

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