With the beginnings of Britain’s exit from the European Union just around the corner, the agricultural industry is questioning more than ever what this division will mean. Britain’s farmers currently receive 60% of their income from EU and environmental subsidies, so this change in circumstances will have a huge impact on producers. In part 2 of our series we continue to investigate the potential positive and negative outcomes for UK producers
On 23rd June 2016, 51.9% of voters in the United Kingdom chose to withdraw from the European Union; ending a 41-year period of confirmed membership. Since the result, many have argued that the public did not understand what they were voting for. Theresa May has since set out her 12-point plan for negotiations with Brussels as she tries to avoid a ‘bad deal’ and bring about a solution ‘that serves the national interest.’ The British public are not foolish to think that the European Union will request a deal that benefits itself and its nations too. Agriculture has benefited in many ways – perhaps more than most – from the UK’s political position in Europe and the free market; however, it is worth wading through the numerous reports and opinions to find both positive and negative potential effects that farmers and producers may feel in a post-Brexit Britain.
A big question – even during the pre-referendum campaigning – has always been whether the UK will be able to trade as freely as it has done within the European Union. The eighth branch to May’s 12-point plan requests continued free trade with the union, while the ninth asks for the allowance of new trade deals; but diplomats in Brussels refuse to let Britain demand points which they claim are conflicting. We currently export a huge amount of our produce with ensured trade links for producers. We import more than we export in all types of food – with the EU supplying about a third of our food – so a lack of good trade deals may put pressure on British farmers.
This moves us to our next positive outcome that highlights how withdrawing from the European Union can allow the UK to regain powers and the provenance of its produce. A new system with innovative laws could see a change in the importing and exporting figures – that currently show an inadequate system. Being a member state of the EU restricts trade deals with nations outside of the ‘club’. Despite there being benefits to trading with powerhouse countries like Germany, there are many nations within the EU that are catastrophically failing in economic terms. Locally sourced produce can be grown to standards of quality governed by local values; with short supply chains creating a level of trust and transparency that today’s consumers desire.
The potential outcomes listed above are just a few to come out of the complex dialogue and debate caused by the uncertainty of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. There is little we can know for sure before the triggering of Article 50 and the negotiations to follow, but it is important to remember that there are two sides to this coin. It is, however, understandable that farmers – many of whom struggle to make large profits even within the safe certainty of the EU according to DEFRA figures – fear an imbalance after the shake-up. We must anticipate the months to come and take a positive outlook on how new changes may actually benefit rather than hinder the already overwhelmed agricultural industry in the United Kingdom.