Farmer support for Brexit as strong as ever, FW poll reveals

Support for Brexit remains as strong as ever among British farmers, with few who voted to leave the European Union 18 months ago saying they would vote any differently if there was another referendum today. 

The latest survey of Farmers Weekly readers, conducted by direct email shot and online in the first week of December, attracted over 1,400 responses – roughly two-thirds farmers and one-third non-farmers.

See also: Exclusive: Survey reveals 58% of farmers back EU exit

It revealed that, among farmers, some 53% voted to leave the EU in the referendum of 23 June, 2016, while 45% opted to remain, with 2% not voting.

This is almost exactly the same outcome as when we ran the same survey last December.

In contrast, the non-farmers taking part (likely to include many people working in the ancillary services and wider food industry), voted 57% to remain and 36% to leave, with 6% not voting – again, an almost identical outcome to our survey 12 months ago.

Referendum re-run?

We then asked “how would you vote if you could vote in the EU referendum again today?”

The answer among farmers, generally, was “exactly how I voted last time”. As such, the Leave camp attracted the same 53% support, with the Remain camp gaining just one point.

This is despite the fact that confidence in the ability of government to secure a good trade deal with the EU and other countries appears to be on the wane, and farmers are even more pessimistic about the likely impact of Brexit on their businesses.

Sectoral differences

The survey reveals that, once again, the greatest support for leaving the European Union seems to come from the “traditionally non-supported” sectors of British agriculture like sugar beet (67%), poultry (66%) and horticulture (57%), while dairy and sheep farmers would be more inclined to stay in the EU given another chance.

In terms of region, it is apparent that the South West and Wales are still the most enthusiastic about leaving the EU, while there would actually be a small majority of farmers in favour of remaining if a referendum was held today in East Anglia (55%), Yorkshire (52%) and the North West (51%).

Asked what their hopes and fears about Brexit were, many Leave farmers continued to talk about issues of sovereignty and immigration.

“Europe never liked us, as evidenced by our treatment over BSE and the way they are treating us in the current negotiations,” commented one Leave supporter. “I do not wish to stay somewhere I am not appreciated.”

“My hope is that Britain becomes great again for its own merits, rather than dictated to by Europe,” said another. “Our produce already sells the world over on its high welfare and quality, and will continue to do so without European interference.”

Non-farmers prefer remain

While farmers are seemingly happy with the 2016 verdict to leave the EU, those in the ancillary sector have become even more opposed to Brexit, the survey suggests.

In answer to the same question about how they would vote in a referendum today, some 64% said they would vote Remain – up from the 58% who actually voted that way last year.

Asked to comment on why they had changed their minds, many of those who voted to leave, but would now vote to stay, focussed on the potential economic damage of leaving the single European market and customs union.

“I had no idea what to vote for on the day, so just went with what I thought, but didn’t realise what implications it would have,” commented one non-farmer.

“The information available before the referendum was just full of lies. It seems mad to be cutting ties with our neighbouring countries.”

Key findings of Farmers Weekly December 2017 poll of readers

  • 915 farmers and 501 non-farmers took part
  • Most farmers said they had voted in favour of leaving and would vote exactly the same way if a referendum was held today
  • Young farmers (under 35) and older farmers (over 65) are still the most in favour of leaving the EU
  • Farmers are less optimistic than a year ago about the effect of Brexit on their businesses
  • They are also less confident that the UK will negotiate a good trade deal with the EU and others
  • Non-farmer readers were more in favour of remaining in the EU, voting 57% to 36% in the referendum
  • If there was a referendum tomorrow, non-farmers would be even more in favour of Remain
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