The UK would be better off securing a special trade deal on food with Spain than with Ireland, according to a leading British academic.
Speaking to AgriLand yesterday, July 17, Prof. Tim Lang said Ireland should be “very angry” about the UK electorate’s decision to leave the EU and should be encouraging its citizens in Britain to “stop this craziness”.
Lang, who is Professor of Food Policy at City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, said the border issue facing the Republic and Northern Ireland was one of the most important factors in Brexit.
A former government commissioner on sustainable development, he has spent a lot of time moving backwards and forwards across the Irish border – making him “acutely aware” of the tensions that a hard border would create.
“Food goes back and forth over the border all the time and no one has really thought about it and what to do about it,” Lang said.
We find it completely astonishing that we have a prime minister in Britain who seems to favour a hard Brexit – it just doesn’t add up. It’s brutally reawakening tensions between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“Ireland is a food exporting country and where does it come through? It comes through places like Anglesey. What’s going to happen? Is there going to be special passporting?
“This is creating a bureaucratic nightmare for something that the right-wing Tory party cult said is all about getting rid of bureaucracy. They just haven’t thought this through at all.”
Spain over Ireland
Lang noted that there was no reason why the UK would favour a special deal on food with Ireland given the importance of imported Spanish produce for British plates.
He said: “Oh come on, a special deal with Ireland? Well let’s have a special deal with France; let’s have a special deal with Belgium; let’s have a special deal with Spain.
“It’s much more important for Britain to have a special deal with Spain because that’s where we get the fresh food that’s important for public health.
“I just think the government is away with the fairies. We’re tip-toeing into an act of extraordinary irresponsibility and policy failure.
“You couldn’t invent the fact that the fifth richest country in the world would do this to its neighbour, Ireland. Ireland should be very angry indeed and should be saying to all its citizens in Britain, ‘stop this craziness. Just stop it’.”
Lang has jointly-launched the report ‘A Food Brexit: time to get real’ with Prof. Erik Millstone, of the University of Sussex, and Prof. Terry Marsden, of Cardiff University.
The report details the negative consequences of Brexit for the UK food industry, including higher food prices for consumers and a potential drop in food standards driven by the need to form trade deals with countries that do not have the same regulations for food production.
The report explained that since 2006, the UK Treasury and the economics division of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affars (DEFRA) has planned to cut ‘Pillar 1’ support relating to area-based production subsidies, which is expected to take effect once the Tory pledge expires.
‘Pillar 2’ subsidies relating to environmental and social public goods are expected to be retained, but only account for about 20% of farm supports. To put that into context, some £3.7 billion in subsidies is used to support farm incomes every year.
“The Treasury is currently saying that after 2022 it will only stick with ‘Pillar 2’. The environment groups are saying, ‘oh isn’t that marvellous’. Really? Then go and look at the figures for farming income from DEFRA – last year it was £3.7 billion.
“They’re kept afloat by that subsidy – this is a fantasy world,” Lang said.
“Our responsibility as academics is to speak to the public. To say, ‘dear British public, do you realise what is going on? You say you want British food but you’re dependent on EU migrant labour’.
“A big horticulture company, and other big fruit manufacturers, are already talking about shifting production to elsewhere – to West Africa. So we’re going to get British horticulture from West Africa. I mean, this is astonishing.”
Lang also pointed out that the UK has signed up to a number of environmental and sustainability commitments as part of the EU, but will struggle to meet these pledges if it becomes more isolationist.
He said: “Britishness doesn’t deal with lowering climate change. British land, British meat – so what? It shouldn’t be about that. It’s about how you feed [livestock]; how you rear them. This is becoming a childish reduction of politics. It’s dreadful – it’s shocking actually.
“If I was Bord Bia, I would be absolutely incandescent, and I would be asking all Irish citizens in Britain – of whom there are many – and people with Irish relatives, ‘can you please start talking to your neighbours’. This is madness.”
The full report can be read here.