Monday, December 26, 2016

How and why farmers voted on Brexit

A view has developed that farmers voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. However, this view is largely based on a series of Farmers Weekly polls which were not based on a sample but on self-selected responses. Thus, if Brexiteers were stronger in their beliefs, they might be more likely to respond.

This does not mean that nothing can be learnt from these polls. The latest online poll shows that of 1,400 active farmer respondents, 54 per cent voted to leave and 44 per cent voted to remain. 28 per cent thought they would be better off as a result of Brexit and 41 per cent thought they would be worse off (21 per cent about the same). Even among those who voted to leave, there has been a decline in optimism.

Horticulture was the only sector in which more farmers voted to remain than leave. The sector is highly dependent on migrant labour from the EU.

Unsurprisingly, those sectors that have received little or no support from the CAP were most likely to vote leave (poultry, pigs, potatoes). The pigmeat sector incurs heavy transaction costs in meeting EU environmental regulations.

More than half of farmers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voted to leave, although they are particularly reliant on subsidies.

It is important to note that farmers often voted on the basis of the same concerns as the public in general, rather than agricultural policy. Those who wanted to leave were concerned about issues such as loss of sovereignty and migration. Those who voted to remain were more concerned about market access and loss of support.

During the referendum campaign I addressed a number of meetings of farmers on Brexit. Since then I have sought the views of well-connected farmers for their views on patterns of voting.

The general view was that livestock farmers were more likely to vote for Brexit as they felt constrained by what they saw as EU regulations. The FW poll shows that support for Brexit was particularly strong in the south-west, a livestock region.

However, there is anecdotal evidence that some arable farmers voted for Brexit because they felt constrained by the EU pesticides regime, e.g., restrictions on neonics and a possible ban on glyphosate, a popular weed killer. However, they now realise that if the UK wants to export grains to the EU, it would have to abide by EU regulations.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Special post-Brexit deal needed for Ireland

A special post-Brexit deal is needed for Ireland, according to an influential House of Lords committee: Brexit and Ireland

The report gives recognition to the importance of the agro-food sector in Ireland and Anglo-Irish trade in this area. Farmers will suffer if trade barriers are imposed between the two countries. The agro-food sector would probably be worst affected, given its reliance on cross-border trade.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Is Defra ready for Brexit?

It has been estimated that around a quarter of EU derived regulations fall within the ambit of Defra. Is Defra ready for Brexit? No, although the more important question is whether it will be ready by 2019.

The Institute for Government has undertaken a very interesting study of Whitehall's preparedness for Brexit which is quite positive about the Department for Exiting the European Union. Defra is one of five departmental case studies: Institute for Government

What is particularly worrying in Defra's case, given the range and complexity of the issues involved, are the cuts in staff and budget that have taken place. Defra's budget is 17 per cent smaller than it was in 2010 and will be about 35 per cent smaller by March 2019. Moreover, staff have already been cut by 35 per cent.

If all the depleted staff had to do was to deal with Brexit, it might be feasible. Decisions about which regulations to keep and which to change can be taken after Brexit. However, staff also have to do their 'business as usual' work and there is no shortage of challenges, e.g., bovine TB, not to mention the question of relations with the devolved administrations.