Cheap food might become a thing of the past, and any attempt by the Westminster Government to take over agricultural policy for the whole of the UK must be resisted.
These were the strong messages sent out yesterday by Andrew McCornick, President of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland.
Loading article content
The Dumfriesshire farmer described the farming industry as being in “a kind of a void at the moment” following the UK Government’s refusal to share its proposals for post-Brexit agriculture with the devolved administrations last week.
“Everybody is expecting something to happen but you’re not seeing what that something is,” McCornick told The National, “and I would say that while there is no panic at the moment there is real nervousness in the industry.
“There is a real fear that we can either be destroyed by imports of cheap poor quality food or by being denied access to our main trading area outside the UK which is Europe.
“We have got two years to get these negotiations done to ensure the future stability of our industry and there really is nervousness about what these negotiations are going to bring about, and that somehow we could become expendable.”
The thorny issue of Common Agricultural Policy support payments for farmers is causing grave concern.
McCornick explained: “We need the support payments because if they were not there then there would not be cheap food produced in this country.
“Some sectors are more dependent on it than others, especially those hill sheep farmers in the more challenging areas of the country, but they are just as important for other sectors in other parts.”
The negotiations with the EU are absolutely crucial to gaining a trade deal that allows our farmers to export into Europe without crippling tariffs.
“We cannot be disadvantaged by these negotiations,” said McCornick. “We are only 60 per cent self-sufficient in food in the UK. There is going to have to be food coming in but equally our products need to be going to Europe to keep the stability in the market.
“All during the Brexit campaign the Brexiteers were quite confident that there would be continued support for the industry but I can’t say that I am overwhelmingly confident of that now.
“The Government must realise that they are going to have to support our industry or the market will have to pay a price that it’s not currently paying – I can’t see any government being very enthusiastic about making food more expensive.”
It’s not just farmers who will be affected by a Hard Brexit: “There are about 360,000 people in Scotland who have agriculture as the base industry behind their jobs, people who work in the food and drink industry and all the suppliers of goods and services.
“The politicians really need to understand it’s about communities, it’s not just about individual farmers.”
McCornick reserved his biggest ire for the suggestion that Westminster could take back control of agricultural policy, though he accepts there must be a “framework” for future farming policies in the four countries of the UK.
He said: “Agriculture has been devolved to the Scottish Government and there is no way I can imagine Westminster repatriating that back to Westminster. It doesn’t need to. We have got a better understanding of what is needed within Scotland and it is far better being devolved to the Scottish Government.
“The people that are on the ground here know their stuff, and our industry here is different compared to the rest of the UK. The battle will come over budgets. We have a protected budget coming from Europe to the Scottish Government. When it starts coming from Westminster we don’t know what protection that budget will have.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has maintained that as powers are repatriated from Brussels back to Britain, the right powers will be returned to Westminster, and the right powers will be passed to the devolved administrations though it won’t say what those powers will be.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are determined to get the best deal possible, not least for our hard-working farmers. The views of all the devolved nations will play an important part in helping shape our discussions around our exit from the EU and we will continue to work with all the devolved administrations throughout the process to achieve a deal on leaving the EU that works for all parts of the UK.”