The government has “severely undermined” the British farming industry by confirming it will remove the tariff safeguards for several key agricultural sectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the farming sector has said.
Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said that not only will the government’s approach put significant additional financial pressure on farmers at precisely the time they will be facing enormous challenges from a no-deal Brexit, but it also risks the UK being flooded with imports produced to lower standards that would be illegal for UK farmers.
“I wrote to the Prime Minister only a few weeks ago to express our concerns with the approach the government took back in March to import tariffs in a no deal scenario. But with the chances of us leaving in less than four weeks without a deal increasing by the day, the Prime Minister has missed a real opportunity to back British farmers,” she said.
“Farmers and growers are understandably anxious to know that the government will take all steps necessary to help the sector avoid the worst impacts of leaving the EU without a deal.
“Instead we will see – from day one – farm businesses facing new, high tariffs on much of the 60% of our exports that go into the EU, while tariffs on goods coming into the UK will be set far, far lower and in many cases won’t be applied at all.
“In particular, British egg farmers, British cereal farmers, our horticultural growers and many of our dairy farmers will have zero protection against cheap imports coming in from around the world.
“Without the maintenance of tariff protections, we are in danger of opening up the UK to imported food which would be illegal to be produced here, produced at a lower cost because it may fail to meet the environmental and animal welfare standards which are legally required of our own farmers – flooding our market and resulting in unsustainable price falls.
“Not only could this be terrible news for farmers, whose very businesses will be under threat, but also for consumers who enjoy the high-quality and affordable British food they produce.
“While it is clearly important that the government manages prices for consumers in a no-deal scenario, border tariffs have very little impact on retail food prices. They can, however, have a massive impact on the viability of farm businesses and our ability to produce high quality, great British food.
“ I believe that offering some limited tariff protection and managing volumes through a system of import quotas would have struck the right balance between protecting the interests of domestic producers and keeping retail food prices under control.
“Farmers are going to feel betrayed by this government’s failure to act now in making sure that all that can be done is being done to help mitigate the damaging effects of a no-deal Brexit.
“I don’t recall anyone selling a vision of post-Brexit Britain as one involving lower standard food filling shop shelves while British farmers, the guardians of our cherished countryside, go out of business.”