As Autumn comes
Published in the Farmers Guardian Septenber 2018
As this year’s superb summer gives way to the gold of autumn the negotiations for a new relationship with the EU should be reaching a conclusion.
We see, however, the complete opposite, with the possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario now being talked about seriously. And given that Theresa May’s original ‘Chequers’ plan did not include agriculture these latest developments or rather non developments are quite disconcerting.
Without a deal which gives the UK access to EU markets on agricultural produce the future for both farmers and consumers could be catastrophic. Already there is talk of food prices increasing by some 5% because of the summer heat wave; without a deal we could see prices increase even more.
Farmers could see vital markets disappear as tariffs are placed on produce from the UK by the EU. For example, France is a vital market for British lamb.
The possibility of food shortages is a major concern for all of us. This, along with many other reasons, is why as we move into autumn and certainly before the first snows of winter Parliament must hold May’s government to account for their disastrous Brexit negotiations. Parliament must make sure that a ‘no deal’ scenario is rejected. We must put country before party.
What is certain is that before the first daffodils of spring 2019 appear the country must have a deal with EU, anything else will be disastrous, especially so for our farming sector.
For me that deal must give us the same access to the single market we currently enjoy, along with a Customs Union. And it certainly needs to be a deal that includes agriculture, which the Chequers proposals do not.
There is certainly much work to do and not much time left. Like millions of voters, I am getting more and more concerned that narrow party considerations are being put first. This is not acceptable. As I write this I am hearing MPs might not be told of the full consequences of a ‘No Deal’. That cannot happen.
If there was ever a time when Parliament needs to claim its sovereignty and stand up for ordinary people it is now. We must not falter.
Finally, we are to see the long anticipated Agriculture Bill
Published inb the Farmers Guardian July 2018
The summer Parliamentary recess is almost upon us and still no sign of the long-awaited Agriculture Bill.
For farmers I don’t think it can be under estimated just how important this Bill is. The first Agriculture Bill since 1947, I am told.
Whatever people’s thoughts on Brexit this Bill needs to establish clearly the Government’s plans as to how it is going to support farmers. A support scheme which focuses on public money for public goods is right in principle but farmers will also want to know how the Government is going to help them further the agriculture sector’s substantial economic, social and environmental contribution to the country and strengthen the nation’s ability to feed itself and the world.
The Bill has to be right, there won’t be any second chances and failure is unthinkable. It has to be thoroughly tested to ensure it is ‘fit for purpose’. With that in mind, our Select Committee looked forward to scrutinizing the Bill before it started on its Parliamentary journey, as evidence suggests that pre-legislative scrutiny by Select Committees improves legislation. It is disappointing therefore that Michael Gove has declined the opportunity for the EFRA committee to scrutinize the Bill before the legislative process starts.
We also now know there is unlikely to be any ‘Brexit dividend’ once we leave the EU and even if one did miraculously materialise we have been told it has been allocated to the NHS.
Nobody will resent extra resources for our sorely pressed National Health Service. But the the worrying question in the minds of formers will be, where is the money for farming going to come from once the transitional deal ends?
Another question relates to the fact that there are many other priorities making demands on the public purse. How will farming fare in this context, one wonders? And can farmers secure a guarantee that a support scheme agreed in 2022 will last more than one parliamentary cycle?
All valid questions the Secretary of State needs testing on and ideal for the Select Committee to examine. Unfortunately, that now won’t be the case before the Bill comes to the Commons.
Once it does though we Parliamentarians must make sure these and other questions are asked and examined.
Our farming future is too important for them not to be.