A surprising number of farmers back a no deal Brexit given that many of them would suffer financially as a result. At least that is the case if one believes polls from Farmers Weekly. A health warning is always necessary about these polls as respondents select themselves and the Ns are often small. A poll which purported to show that a majority of farmers backed Brexit in the referendum has nevertheless embedded itself in the public mind.
43 per cent of 'about 300' farmers said they would be happy with a no deal Brexit while 57 per cent said they would not. Concern about leaving without a deal was strongest in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Yorkshire and Humberside. Optimism about farm business prospects is at its lowest level since the survey started a year ago.
A snapshot 24 hour poll found that 53 per cent would choose to leave the EU with no deal if they could vote again. 38 per cent said they would vote remain and just 9 per cent said they would back the withdrawal agreement backed by Theresa May.
It is interesting that the first poll is below a story about the impact of a no deal Brexit on the sheepmeat sector. About one-third of the UK's production of lamb is exported and 95 per cent of this goes to the EU. 40 per cent tariffs and regulatory barriers would almost wipe out exports.
The Government has ruled out culling as a response to such a crisis. It looks as if they favour a combination of a headage payment on breeding ewes and a slaughterhouse premium. The UK breeding flock already reduced by about 30 per cent in the 2017-18 breeding season as farmers responded to an uncertain future.
Mike Gooding, director of Farmers' First, one of Britain's biggest lamb exporters, told Farmers Weekly: 'Essentially, Brexit risks excluding UK produce from the EU market. A no-deal Brexit would result in the same outcome - but with that risk greatly increased.'
He predicted a substantial fall in sheep farming in the UK. 'My own personal view is that there will be far fewer farmers managing what sheep there are in larger flocks - possibly across multiple holdings.'