No deal most popular Brexit choice with farmers, says report

More than a quarter of farmers are backing the UK to leave the EU without a transitional arrangement, making it the most popular Brexit conclusion, according to a new survey of 200 farm businesses.

In total, 26% of rural landowners and businesses surveyed wanted a hard ‘no-deal’ Brexit, just edging the 25% of respondents who advocated for a second referendum leading to a remain conclusion.

See also: Farm leaders warn against renewed prospect of no-deal Brexit

The results come in spite of repeated warnings from farming unions that leaving the EU in a cliff-edge-style Brexit would be catastrophic for the sector.

Other choices among the 200 farmers and landowners surveyed in the Knight Frank Rural Sentiment Survey 2019 indicated May’s transitional arrangement (22%) and a softer Brexit including a customs union (16%) would be preferable outcomes.

There was a significant swing among the 30 farmers (15%) who said they would change how they voted in the referendum held in June three years ago towards leaving the EU.

Almost 80% (24 respondents) of those changing their mind on Brexit said they would change their vote from remain to leave, a slightly higher increase than seen in the same survey 12 months ago.

Respondents who swung towards the EU exit door blamed Brussels for the UK’s inability to strike a deal.

Unwillingness to change

Surprisingly, more than half of businesses who responded to the report said they were making no changes to their businesses to cope with the challenges or opportunities of Brexit.

Despite 49% of farmers and rural landowners stating they were planning to adapt how they farm to deal with leaving the EU, the remaining 51% said they had no such plans.

The most popular changes among farm businesses planning for Brexit were diversifications, putting more land in conservation schemes and making existing businesses more efficient.

Most popular farm changes

  • Diversification
  • Putting more land in conservation schemes
  • Make existing business more efficient
  • Plant more trees
  • Buy or sell land

Brexit effects

Three out of five respondents stated that despite Brexit being an aggravation and an annoyance to farm businesses, it had not had a tangible economic impact to date.

However, a substantial minority (29%) indicated they had taken a financial hit due to uncertainty (17%), having to put business plans on hold (8%) or on no-deal preparations (4%).

Beyond Brexit, respondents pointed to the same issues preventing them from managing their businesses as in 2018.

Restrictive planning policy, poor rural broadband, fly-tipping, commodity prices and succession issues remained the five biggest road bumps for landowners managing rural businesses.

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