Jenny Chapman: A no deal Brexit could be devastating for our sheep industry

Posted On: 
2nd September 2019

Our sheep industry is a national success story and a way of life for tens of thousands. But a no deal Brexit would put it under serious threat, writes Jenny Chapman

About 30% of UK sheep meat is exported, and about 95% of that goes to the EU, jenny Chapman writes
Credit: 
PA

Sheep farming is a bedrock of our rural communities from the Yorkshire Dales to the rolling hills of Exmoor. We have a national flock of over 33 million sheep, tended to by 34,000 farmer workers, producing 300,000 tonnes of meat each year. The is proud to be the 6th largest producer of sheep meat worldwide.

Our sheep industry is a national success story and a way of life for thousands.

But a no deal Brexit would put UK sheep farming under serious threat. It is likely to lead to the slaughter and burial of millions of sheep unable to be sold on the market. The meat would be wasted as the UK doesn’t have enough cold storage facilities to preserve it safely.  Once the unique characteristics of our national flock are lost, they will take generations to return. 

I know that people think this is a scare story. Silence of the Lambs as the latest chapter in Project Fear. But you only have to understand the basic facts of how the industry works to know that this is no scare story and that the threat posed by a no deal Brexit is very real. 

The UK sheep meat industry is enormously dependent on exports to the EU. About 30% of our sheep meat is exported, and about 95% of that goes to the EU. That equates to a mind-blowing 4,500,000 sheep every year.

If we leave without a deal, UK farmers will face tariffs, checks and barriers instantly. This will be devastating. 

In other industries leaving without a deal will involve frustrating but ultimately manageable tariffs. But in the sheep meat industry it means being priced out of business. Tariffs on sheep meat imports are at 46%. So, a French firm paying £100 for an order of sheep meat would suddenly have to pay £146 for the same quantity.  It won’t take long for those firms to look for non-UK suppliers.

The industry is quite clear of the potential consequences.

National Farmers Union President Minette Batters has said: “You will have many farmers going out of business and indeed you would have to look at slaughtering quite a large percentage of the national sheep flock.”

Consumption of the previously exported meat in the UK won’t be possible, we lack the cold storage capacity to keep it fresh. Tonnes of edible food will be left to rot.

The Government is pretending there isn’t a problem. Ministers won’t talk about it and requests for meetings are declined.

The Government needs to be clear about the severe consequences for the UK sheep meat industry of a no deal Brexit and rule it out. At stake are 34,000 jobs as well as an historic national industry that supports our landscape and a way of life for communities up and down the country. 

I hope members from the across the House will join me in doing so in my adjournment debate on Tuesday 3 September.

Jenny Chapman is Labour MP for Darlington and shadow minister for exiting the European Union. Her Adjournment debate on the future of the UK sheep industry is on Tuesday 3rd September