Farm leaders have called for further assurances following Boris Johnson’s agreement with Brussels for the UK to leave the European Union with a deal.
In a move that would enable the UK to strike trade agreements with other countries, the deal would see the whole of the UK leave the EU customs union. But there would be a legal customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
MPs are due to vote on whether to accept the deal on Saturday (19 October) – and it remains uncertain whether they will vote in favour.
NFU president Minette Batters said the deal might pave the way for an orderly Brexit and the avoidance of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
But she warned: “It only determines how the UK withdraws from the EU and does not determine the long-term future of the UK’s and EU’s relationship.
“It is vital that government has a long-term aspiration to ensure that British farming standards are not undercut by an ambition to open up British markets to food that would be illegal to produce here – and that there is free and frictionless trade with the EU in the long term.
“We have had precious little reassurances on these issues so far and we look to government to be clear about its ambitions for British farming, which provides affordable, safe, home-grown food produced to some of the highest standards in the world.”
The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) said the deal contained “no significant changes or improvements for Wales” and repeated concerns that it would place the UK outside the EU single market.
Coupled with the government’s “alarming appetite” for a trade deal with the US, FUW president Glyn Roberts said this raised major alarm bells for Welsh farming and those concerned with UK food standards.
Mr Roberts said it would clearly be a US priority in trade negotiations to secure access to the UK market for agricultural products – often produced in ways and to standards that fell short of what is currently legal in Wales and the rest of the EU.
“The impact would be extremely damaging for Welsh farmers and UK food standards, and there is a real danger that the UK would be ‘deal-takers’ during the sort of negotiations this withdrawal deal and political declaration is seeking to allow.
“As well as a lowering of UK standards, this would also risk the loss of access to the prosperous EU market that is on our doorstep for products such as Welsh lamb, because of those differing standards.”
Country Land and Business Association president Tim Breitmeyer appeared more positive. News of the deal would be warmly welcomed by farmers, many of whom were fearing a no-deal scenario, he said.
“The proposed deal finally provides us with some certainty, that could in turn help unlock much-needed investment to get the rural economy moving again.
“Opposition MPs, many of whom have argued against a hard Brexit, should think very carefully before voting this deal down. One gets the sense that it’s this deal or no-deal.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said food and drink manufacturers hoped that a no-deal exit on 31 October could now not happen.
“Our focus now switches to whether this deal can command the support of the UK parliament, and what the detail of the deal means for our members.
“Their objectives are securing frictionless trade and regulatory alignment with the EU, our largest market. They also must have access to the workers our industry needs.”
European farm organisations Copa and Cogeca said the deal paved the way for an orderly Brexit – something the EU agri-food chain has been repeatedly calling for.
But it warned that it would not be possible to replicate the advantages of the EU customs union and single market through a free-trade agreement.
Copa and Cogeca and supply chain bodies CELCAA and FoodDrinkEurope called for the swift ratification of the deal by the EU and the UK before 31 October.
Everything must be done to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without an agreement, they said.