Last week the inaugural Henry Plumb Lecture took place at the Royal Society in London, during which Ivan Rogers, the former UK permanent representative to the European Union, spoke to farm leaders and other farming sector representatives about the negotiations and life after Brexit. To say that his words didn’t foster much optimism is the biggest understatement of the year. He made it clear his view that post Brexit ”life, and trade flows, cannot just carry on much as before”.
As Theresa May seems intent on removing the UK from both the Customs Union and the Single Market there will inevitably be significant impacts on the nature of trade; whether that is the complexity of a new free trade agreement, which could take years to draw together, or in a worse case scenario high tariffs on all agricultural goods. This would quite simply be disastrous for many farmers who struggle with fine margins and cashflow at the best of times.
According to Rogers farming is set to begin a ”highly complex game of chess which you [farmers] will need to be very clear about the important objectives for the UK government – but also very pragmatic that they are not likely to replicate exactly what you have now”. Further, not only will farmers be vying for a good deal as part of the overall Brexit package, they will be in competition with other government departments for funds and support post-Brexit. Farming needs to get its act together and come up with a coherent plan and vision. This might include investment in research into agri-tech; it might include a marketing vision for food Britannia of high welfare and good quality produce; it might include a new CPD programme for farmers throughout the industry. Whatever it is it needs to be clear and come from a single voice – perhaps a group of representative bodies speaking under a single banner.