The importance of the single market to agriculture was emphasised by Martin Haworth, deputy director-general of the NFU, in a presentation earlier today at a conference in London organised by the UK in a Changing Europe programme. Subsidies to farmers were not the most important issue. 65 to 70 per cent of agricultural exports from the UK went to Europe and there was no other alternative. He also noted that the EU had over fifty trade agreements with third countries.
The uncertainty inherent in the Article 50 process was of itself damaging and the CBI had estimated that it could lead to a fall in GDP of 0.75 per cent to 1.5 per cent.
UK agriculture required 20,000 - 25,000 seasonal workers and there were another 35,000 full-time EU workers in agriculture. Analysis by Oxford University of the effects of a point system showed that 96 per cent of the workers would not get through.
Governments of other EU member states showed more sympathy with agriculture. Britain was a more urban society than most of the rest of Europe. He noted, 'I get much more access, interest and sympathy in Brussels.'
Farming formed part of a food chain and virtually the whole chain was in favour of staying in the EU. Food manufacturers would have to consider relocating in the event of Brexit. The catering industry was highly dependent on migrant labour.
He had not heard a credible argument on agriculture that suggested we would be better off leaving.
Responding to questions he said that the Ciolos reform had not offered a strategic vision of agriculture, but was a tactical attempt to green the CAP to attract more support. The division between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 had been blurred.
Britain in the EU had been sullen and budget obsessed and had never punched with the weight we should have done.
Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, said that going around the country food issues had been raised relatively rarely. However, she occasionally heard the demand 'We must take control of our fish' which created the vision of a fish swimming round with a passport tucked under its fin. We now had a reasonably sustainable fisheries policy that took account of the biological capacity of the ocean. The fact that we had been able to reform the CFP raised hopes for the reform of the CAP.
What is very clear is that fishers want to get out of the EU, in contrast to the more divided views of farmers: Fishermen and the EU
As for the referendum debate, it had degenerated into a Tory leadership contest masquerading as a EU referendum debate.