One of the speakers summed up an excellent seminar held by EurActiv in London yesterday on 'How Brexit would affect British farming' with the following words: 'Uncertainty about how the world would be worse.'
The discussion was opened by Molly Scott Cato MEP who serves on the European Parliament's Agri Committee. A Green, she represents the south-west and Gibraltar, although, as she pointed out, there isn't much agriculture there.
She said that we tended to take the benefits of the CAP for granted. The countryside would suffer if we didn't have farming working.
A point I very much agreed with is her comment that farming did not have the same resonance in the UK as in other member states as being a vital part of the economy. Farmers would be very vulnerable outside the EU. England could move to a more market oriented view of agriculture, we could move to a New Zealand system with greater intensification and industrialisation.
The view from the NFU
Martin Haworth, deputy director-general of the NFU, indicated five crucial issues:
- Access to single market, 73 per cent of agricultural exports go there, higher than for the rest of the economy.
- Would we be more or less open to imports?
- What kind of EU agricultural policy would we have outside the EU?
- Labour: farms had 22,000 full-time employees from the EU and the best available estimate of seasonal workers was 21,000.
- Regulatory issues.
When pressed to give examples of gold plating, Haworth found it difficult to give any, although a representative of the National Sheep Association did point to different treatment of carcasses. The example that Haworth gave of badgers being treated as a protected species is the result of UK legislation reflecting public agitation.
Haworth also said in later discussion that the last CAP reform mixed up economic policy objectives and green policy objectives and ended up pleasing no one.
An environmental perspective
Martin Nesbit of the Institute for European Environmental Policy said that the CAP was not a great advert for European policy-making. What would be a good policy and what would be good for farmers were two different things. The CAP was expensive for what it did and was poorly targeted.
He pointed out that UK vets had been particularly influential on EU discussions and this expertise would be lost.
It was important to consider the link between CAP reform and the wider negotiations. The uncertainty was the most worrying point.
A representative from the WWF commented that Brexit would land both the farming and environment in more trouble. There would be a lower level of funding.
It was argued in discussion that Brexit would change the balance of influence in the remaining European Union. The balance would edge away from the northern liberal states and in favour of the interventionists. One could expect more coupled payments.
EurActiv's own report on the seminar can be found here: Brexit debate