Tuesday, December 26, 2017

How do farmers feel now about Brexit?

Perhaps the question I am asked most often is, 'Why did farmers vote for Brexit?' Well, the short answer is that they didn't. Or, at least, we don't have any reliable data. Opinions have been based on self-selected polls by Farmers Weekly and my hunch is that they tend to over represent supporters of Brexit.

However, they are the only data we have. The latest poll suggests that, just like the population as a whole, most farmers have not changed their mind about the way in which they voted, despite being more pessimistic about the outlook for their businesses. The Remain camp gained just one percentage point.

The latest poll of more than 1,400 respondents (two-thirds of them farmers) shows that 53 per cent of them voted to leave the EU and 45 voted to remain with two per cent not voting. This would imply a 98 per cent turnout among farmers and reinforces my view that the more committed are over represented in the poll which would tend to be Brexiteers, given that many Remain voters were not enthusiastic about the EU but thought that on balance the UK was better staying in.

The non-farmers taking part, mostly those in ancillary occupations and the wider food industry, voted 57 per cent to remain and 36 per cent to leave, 7 per cent not voting.

It is no surprise that support for leaving was highest in those sectors that have not received much in the way of subsidies: 67 per cent in sugar beet; 66 per cent in; and 57 per cent in horticulture. Dairy and sheep farmers would be more inclined to stay in the EU.

It would seem that for many leave farmers concerns about sovereignty and immigration trumped purely agricultural issues. One farmer commented, 'My biggest hope is that we will get away from the strangehold Brussels has on this country. The EU has got too Big Brother and dictatorial.'

12 months ago 45 per cent of farmers were confident that Britain would get a good trade deal after Brexit, but that figure has now slumped to 35 per cent. Among non-farmers 67 per cent have little faith in a good trade outcome.

Just 28 per cent of farmers now think they will be better off after Brexit with 46 per cent expecting to see an income decline. Before the referendum 37 per cent thought they would be better off and 43 per cent thought they would be worse off. Just 22 per cent of those in the non-farming group see a benefit to their businesses from Brexit compared with 54 per cent who they will be worse off.

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