Some days, it seems that there’s never been a time where Brexit hasn’t been at the forefront of the political situation in this country. It’s now been over two years since the UK voted to leave the EU in what was an historic referendum with almost weekly predictions of doom and gloom to come for the food industry ever since.
This week, a series of technical papers were released by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab explaining how to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. These papers, only 25 of a total 80, includes “practical and proportionate” advice for the farming industry should a no-deal Brexit occur – much to the horror of many.
Some have talked of an ‘Armageddon; in agriculture if a no-deal scenario occurs, with others claiming things are on a “cliff edge” when it comes to the £45bn in agricultural produce we exchange with the EU.
So what was gleaned from these no-deal papers in terms of farming and who’s saying what in response?
The head of the national farmers union, Minette Batters, has been one to come out all guns blazing following Thursday’s release, which warns that farmers exporting British organic food could be hit with significant disruption.
The produce would have to be recognised by UK governing bodies, which in turn would then have to be recognised by the EU – a process that the document claims could take up to nine months.
Batters warned that British farmers could face “the highest rate or tariffs” on exports if the UK was forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which would be the only course of action following a no-deal scenario.
She told the BBC: “We could end up in a situation where farmers are penalised… We’ve been told since day one that we will be avoiding the cliff-edge, we will have a deal. The government is, and in my belief rightly, preparing for a no deal situation, but it IS preparing for a no-deal situation, so I don’t think anything can be ruled out.
“We know that agriculture is always the last chapter in any trade deal to be achieved, and as I say, facing the highest wall of tariffs for our farmers would be absolutely catastrophic for British agriculture.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright has echoed these sentiments, adding:
“The Government’s laudable decision to publish these Technical Notices nevertheless confirms what a grisly prospect for UK food and drink a no-deal exit from the EU would be. There is no sign of further progress on negotiating frameworks with the devolved administrations.
“There is no substantive information on mitigating the effect of ‘no deal’ on the island of Ireland, where the implications would be most significant.”
Deliverance by the end of March?
Another ongoing issue is the need for the UK to create its own system for tracing organic produce by the end of the negotiating phase (the end of March next year), away from the currently used EU method, which will be an integral part of post Brexit organic farming.
“The UK food industry will doubt that the Government could replace TRACES [the EU Trade Control and Expert System that tracks the entire trade and certification process for animals, food, feed and plants] with a new, comprehensive, functional UK alternative IT system in time for the end of March,” says Wright. “The piecemeal release of these notices indicates that many are not yet ready and agreed for publication. That hardly inspires confidence.
“As the consequences of a no-deal exit from the EU become ever clearer it is vital that, to protect the interests of shoppers and consumers, the Government must deliver a deal with the EU.”