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Wednesday 23 May 2018

Grow for Brexit: UK Minister says British farmers could boost food production to prevent 'no deal' price hikes

IBEC figures point to turnover loss of almost €700m in the food industry in 2016. Pic Roger Jones.
IBEC figures point to turnover loss of almost €700m in the food industry in 2016. Pic Roger Jones.

Jack Maidment

UK farmers will be encouraged to “grow more here” to prevent increases in food prices potentially caused by a no deal Brexit, a senior Cabinet minister has suggested.

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said he believed Britain and Brussels will be able to  reach a “sensible agreement” on the UK’s terms of withdrawal from the European Union.

However, he insisted that the UK will “succeed come what may” as he sought to downplay concerns that leaving the bloc without a deal could lead to large increases in food prices.

He warned that no deal would cause “damage” to food producers on the continent but suggested the UK could counteract any problems by boosting domestic production in comments which echoed the famous “Dig for Victory” campaign of the Second World War.

Told that British families could be hit hard by rising food prices if new, post-Brexit trading arrangements are not put in place, Mr Grayling said: “Well, what we will do is grow more here and we’ll buy more from around the world.

“But of course that will mean bad news for continental farmers, and that’s why it won’t happen. Because it’s actually in their interest to reach a deal.”

The “Dig for Victory” campaign was set up by the British Ministry of Agriculture during the Second World War to encourage people to grow their own food to reduce the UK’s reliance on imports.

Mr Grayling, a prominent Leave campaigner, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that he believed pressure from EU-based farmers would ensure a deal is done.

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Asked what a no deal outcome would do to food prices, he said: “Well, what it would do is that it would mean that producers, supermarkets, bought more at home, that British farmers produced more, that they bought more from around the world.

“And it would damage French producers and continental producers.

“You may remember the brouhaha over the Walloon farmers when they were objecting to the Canadian trade deal.

“I had a look at the time to see who their biggest customer was. Us. We are the biggest customers of the Walloon farmers. They will be damaged if we don’t have a deal.”

Despite his optimism, Mr Grayling said it was right for the Government to prepare for “all eventualities”.

“I remain absolutely of the view that Britain will succeed come what may,” he said.

“But I also believe we’ll end up with a sensible agreement with the European Union because it’s in both of our interests that that should happen.

“But of course we must plan for all eventualities. People would think it was ridiculous if the government wasn’t planning for all eventualities.”

Labour’s Jenny Chapman, a shadow Brexit minister, said Mr Grayling’s suggestion of increased food production was “another example of the Tories' chaotic approach” to negotiations.  

She said: "Rather than planning for no deal, ministers appear to be telling us to dig for no deal. British farmers already work incredibly hard and to suggest that they could simply grow more food is ridiculous.”


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