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Thu, 2 April 2020

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Farmers warn Boris Johnson to stop playing 'Russian roulette' over no-deal Brexit

Farmers warn Boris Johnson to stop playing 'Russian roulette' over no-deal Brexit
3 min read

Boris Johnson has been told to stop playing "Russian roulette" with the agricultural sector as he embarks on his first official visit to Wales.


The new Prime Minister has been warned that sheep farmers could block roads in protest at the "absolutely catastrophic" impact leaving the European Union without a deal will have on their sector.

Mr Johnson is set to visit a farm in South Wales to talk up the agricultural sector's "amazing" contribution to the economy and vow a "better deal" once the UK leaves the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

"That means scrapping the Common Agricultural Policy and signing new trade deals. Our amazing good and farming sector will be ready and waiting to continue selling ever more not just here but around the world," he said ahead of the visit.

But his comments were slammed by Helen Roberts, from the National Sheep Association in Wales, who said a no-deal would lead to the imposition of steep export tariffs - and could lead to civil unrest in farming communities.

"Whether Mr Johnson at the moment is just playing this sort of game hoping that it is a tactic to get Europe to renegotiate with us... he needs to not play Russian roulette with the argiculture industry," she told the Today programme.

Asked whether such disruption could see farmers take to the streets, Ms Roberts said: "I think they will. It is time to stand up for ourselves... I suspect there will be protests."

The comments follow new research from the Argiculture and Horticulture Development Board and Quality Meat Scotland, which concluded the lamb export trade would be "almost completely wiped out" in the event of a no-deal exit.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, meanwhile warned that the imposition of a 40% tarrif on lamb exports to EU could lead to a mass slaughter of sheep unless public bodies such as schools and hospitals were forced to buy the meat.

"You would be in oversupply because you wouldn't be able to get over the barrier of a tarriff to Europe," she told the same programme.

Ms Batters added: "Government buying standards, government contracts at the moment - those are not based on British sourcing at all and they could be.

"We could look at and should be looking at opening up market opportunities in China, but that isn't happening."

She added: "There's also opportunities in the United States that could be happening right now - but that isn't happening."

'DENIAL'

The comments were seized on by oppositon parties, with the SNP's Rural Affairs spokesperson Deidre Brock saying Mr Johnson was "in total denial" about the "devastating" impact of leaving the EU without an agreement.

She added: "Any form of Brexit would be damaging - but a No-Deal exit would create huge barriers to trade, making produce uncompetitive, and leading to an appalling situation where millions of unsold lambs and other livestock may have to be slaughtered and burned."

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron said: "People deserve better than the Tories' half baked plan to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal and thereby lumping farmers with an eye watering 40% tarrif on Welsh lamb."

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