A no-deal Brexit sacrificing our rural communities for a soundbite is not an option
Plaid Cymru MP, Jonathan Edwards, discusses the risk a No Deal Brexit poses to agriculture ahead of a debate on the issue in the House of Commons and the upcoming Royal Welsh Agricultural Show.
Brexit is a complicated issue, but for our rural communities its effects are simple. They face economic extinction.
The truth is, come October, if a no deal Brexit becomes a reality, we will see hundreds, if not thousands of farms facing impossible pressures - hit by a double whammy of important protections disappearing and the door closing on vital EU markets.
Over the next few months, up and down Wales – and across the UK – agricultural shows will take place. The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, which takes place next week, will see the best of Welsh farming come together. But, they will meet under the looming shadow of a new Conservative Prime Minister willing to rip the UK out of Europe, deal or no deal.
The growing appeal of a no deal is its apparent simplicity. Its ability to reduce close to half a century of economic relations into two words – no deal. But, I repeat, it just isn’t that easy.
Leaving Europe on these terms requires a whole raft of new agreements – on immigration to aviation.
One of the first necessary acts come November 1st, if we leave without a deal on the current timetable, will be the submission of a new tariff regime to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the body which oversees international trade.
In other words, the British Government will have to set and agree new import and export taxes between the UK and Europe, as well as with the rest of the world.
The British Government has already indicated what it intends to do – a slash and burn approach, which sees vital protections removed.
For agriculture this means tariffs on beef coming from places like South America will be halved to 45%, whilst tariffs on the export of Beef from the UK to same places will remain at 84%. The same situation is true for eggs and poultry. And whilst some protections will remain for lamb, nothing is being proposed to stem the flow of international exports flooding the UK market.
Brexiteers will tell you this hack and slash approach to tariffs is nothing to worry about. Cheaper food and more choice, they will argue. But that isn’t the whole picture, it isn’t even half of it.
Domestic agriculture faces being undercut, by cheaper, lower-quality products.
I can already hear the cries of ‘doom monger’ and ‘project fear’. But it is not me saying these things. I don’t want to be having this debate. I have brought it to the House of Commons because of the calls of those representing the farming community.
The Director of the National Farming Union in Wales told me relying on WTO terms will “have devastating effects and will severely threaten the livelihoods and business of Welsh farmers.”
The Farming Union of Wales equally pointed out the lunacy of where we find ourselves. “It says it all that the prospect of a hard Brexit means a rich and highly developed state is stockpiling food and hoping to use an exemption to WTO rules on the Irish border which would more normally be applied in cases of war or famine”, their President Glyn Roberts said in a statement before today’s debate.
And for those Brexiteers that see the WTO as their saviour, I recommend listening to Pascal Lammy, who should know a thing or two about these things as a former Director General of the World Trade Organisation. He equates leaving the European Union Single Market and Customs Union and trading on WTO terms as like leaving division one and facing a double relegation to division three.
‘No deal’ it is little more than an empty slogan. It may sound easy, but for our farmers it will be very hard indeed. Sacrificing our rural communities for the sake of a soundbite is simply not an option.
Jonathan Edwards is the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr