Defra secretary Michael Gove has urged farmers to “keep their eyes on the prize” of a free-trade deal with the EU and less red tape post Brexit.
Speaking at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday (24 July), Mr Gove said the UK government was “preparing for every eventuality” on Brexit, including leaving the EU without a deal.
But he insisted the government’s Chequers proposal provides an opportunity for the UK to flourish maintaining tariff-free access to EU markets while cutting out the bureaucracy of the CAP.
“I think the most important thing is to keep our eyes on the prize of maintaining access to those [EU] markets, access to new markets and also a more radical and sophisticated method in supporting farmers in the work that they do,” said Mr Gove.
He said maintaining a free-trade deal for agriculture between the UK and the EU after Brexit was in everyone’s interest.
Barnier wants free-trade deal
Mr Gove noted EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier had already stated he wanted a deal with the UK with no tariffs and no quotas.
When asked if some member state governments would seek to punish the UK by imposing tariffs on Welsh sheepmeat after Brexit, Mr Gove said this would “go against the spirit” of any free-trade agreement.
He added: “From the point of view of the EU and certain trade flows, they would want to ensure the produce that constitutes a trade surplus from the EU should come here.
It would be ultimately in the interests of farmers and growers in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France and beyond to ensure they can continue to have tariff-free access to the UK market as well Michael Gove, Defra
“Overall, the EU exports more in food and drink to us in terms of agri-foods than we do to them.
“It would be ultimately in the interests of farmers and growers in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France and beyond to ensure they can continue to have tariff-free access to the UK market as well.”
Welsh funding uncertainty
Mr Gove said farm support for Wales would be protected at the current EU level until the general election in 2022, which is in line with an earlier pledge he made for England.
But Mr Gove was unable to give any firm funding commitment post 2022. He would only say: “Wales will receive whatever it needs in order to support its farming sector and its broader rural economy.”
Similarly, he said Defra was monitoring the effect of the dry, hot weather on farmers and feed supplies and “keeping all options under review”. But the department would not be making any pre-emptive moves “because people’s behaviour might change as a result”.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited Agriculture Bill will be published this autumn. Devolved nations are scrutinising the proposals “clause by clause”, Mr Gove said.