UK government to announce 'robust' protections for farming shortly - Gove

Michael Gove: Environment secretary said vote would go ahead. Photo: REUTERS
Michael Gove: Environment secretary said vote would go ahead. Photo: REUTERS

Margaret Donnelly & Ciaran Moran

The UK government is to make an announcement on new UK tariffs in a no deal Brexit scenario - with specific and robust protections for farming shortly, according to its Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove.

Speaking at the National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference in the UK today, he said that the majority of farmers had voted for Brexit and their concerns have been heard.

He said while he can and will energetically and determinedly try to deal with the consequences of a no deal "let no one be in any doubt how difficult and damaging it would be for British farming."

"The Government is, of course, doing everything it can not just to secure a deal but also to mitigate the impact of leaving without a deal. The NFU and others have made strong arguments about the need to ensure stronger tariff protection for British farming, in particular stronger protection for British farming than any other sector of the economy."

He also said the UK government has the power to intervene to provide direct cash support to the most vulnerable sectors and he will not hesitate to provide the support required.

"It is critically important that every decision-maker in London, every parliamentarian who will vote in the coming weeks, understands what no deal would involve for British farmers and food producers. No one can be blithe or blasé about the consequences."

Life outside the EU and the CAP, he said, will allow the UK to apply necessary rules with greater proportionality and flexibility.

"That is not the only gain which life outside the EU can secure for British farming. We can re-make the nature of farm support, directing money to the most deserving.

"We can target support for small farmers, upland farmers and innovative active farmers for the goods they generate which are not rewarded in the market.

"We can reward better those who are doing all the right things environmentally. And we can support others to make changes they hanker after but whose upfront costs have so far been a deterrent."

He also said that the UK can secure better access to international markets through new trade deals that will allow the UK to export cuts of meat that UK consumers don't favour but in order to do this a deal with the EU is needed.

"But all these potential gains are potentially compromised, indeed put at severe risk, if we don’t secure a deal with the EU.

"The deal the Prime Minister has secured already holds out the prospect of tariff and quota-free access to the European market, with the minimum of friction and the flexibility to operate wholly outside the CAP."

He also said he is optimistic the Government can improve that deal - specifically by seeking changes to the Northern Ireland backstop and alternative arrangements to the customs approach envisaged in the backstop.

"Because if we leave without a deal then there will be significant costs to our economy - and in particular to farming and food production."

He warned that with six weeks to go, there is no absolute guarantee that it would be able to continue to export food to the EU and could lead to an implementation of tarrifs as high as 100pc for some meat cuts.

"I am confident we will secure that listing, but in the event of no deal the EU have also said they will impose strict conditions on our export trade.

"If we leave without a deal the EU has been clear that they will levy the full external tariff on all food. That means an increase of at least 40pc on sheep meat and beef, rising to well above 100pc for some cuts. The impact on upland farmers and the carousel trade in beef would be significant and damaging.

"Tariffs are not the only problem we would face. All products of animal origin entering the EU would face SPS checks. The EU’s current position is that 100% of imports would need to be checked. And, in order to be checked every import would need to go through a border inspection post.

He also warned that border checks could become a possibility and that the requirement for checks will inevitably slow the processing of exports, and for every lorry that is delayed at Calais there is a knock-on effect for other haulage and the rapid turn-around of roll-on roll-off ferries.

"A huge proportion of our food exports to the EU currently go through Calais. As I speak there are no Border Inspection Posts at Calais. None. The French authorities promise to invest in BIP capacity but with just six weeks to go we face considerable uncertainty over future arrangements."

"The combination of tariffs, in some cases doubling or more the price of exports, new checks which will be time-consuming and costly, increased transport frictions and cost, new labelling, customs and SPS requirements will all create significant difficulties for food exporters - small businesses and in particular small livestock farmers would be the worst hit."

Ireland and Brexit

As part of Ireland's Brexit planning, the Department of Agriculture has carried out a detailed analysis of the implications for Irish agri-food exports in a scenario whereby the UK applied the EU’s existing tariff schedule on imports.

Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed has said the analysis found that the estimated cost of potential tariffs for the sector as a whole is €1.7 billion, based on Irish agri-food exports to the United Kingdom of €4.8 billion in 2016.

IFA estimate the imposition of WTO tariffs in a hard-Brexit will impose a direct cost of €800m per year on the beef sector alone.

Online Editors