‘Leaving the EU is too great a risk for UK farmers’

A host of farmers from the UK have said that leaving the EU is a risk that they “cannot afford to take” and have set up a group ‘Farmers for In’.

Some 42 leading figures from the UK farming industry have called for Britain to remain a member of the EU in a letter to The Times.

The letter (which can be read in full below) has been signed by prominent members of the UK farming community and is led by former National Farmers’ Union President, Sir Peter Kendall.

In the letter, farmers argue that the European Single Market accounts for 73% of Britain’s agri-food exports and gives them access to a market more than twice the size of the USA.

“Outside the EU we could keep all or some of this market, but we would have to abide by EU regulations without a say in their formation and pay into the EU budget without receiving EU payments in return.

“We’d pay, but have no say,” they argue.

Kendall has said that being part of the world’s biggest trading block is crucial to the future of the UK’s farming and food industry.

Not only does it give us direct access to 500m of the richest consumers in the world but more EU free trade agreements with more than 50 countries mean we can sell into burgeoning markets across the globe.

“Environmental threats cross borders, so do the animal and plant diseases which endanger food supplies, and market volatility isn’t just a problem for British farmers.

“It is pointless trying to tackle these challenges unilaterally, at a country level; only by working together with other member states – with common standards and thresholds – will we give farming the security it needs in today’s uncertain landscape.

“I won’t pretend the EU is perfect but I’m convinced that as farmers we’re stronger, safer and better off inside.”

Another signatory of the letter, George Lyon, former NFU Scotland President has said that EU membership ensures UK farmers are not disadvantage against the vast number of heavily supported and protected agriculture sectors around the world.

“It is my firm opinion that we must not put all of this and more at risk by walking away from Europe.”

Full text of letter to The Times from UK farmers

Sir,

Leaving the EU is too great a risk for UK farmers.

Those campaigning for Britain to leave put forward a case that outside the EU, UK farmers would retain free access to the European market at the same time as ditching regulations, continuing to receive support payments and benefiting from free movement to plug the shortage of workers for seasonal jobs.

This might sound like an attractive prospect, until you realise that the Leave campaigns have nothing to back up their claims.

The European Single Market accounts for 73% of Britain’s agri-food exports and gives us access to a market more than twice the size of the USA. Outside the EU we could keep all or some of this market, but we would have to abide by EU regulations without a say in their formation and pay into the EU budget without receiving EU payments in return. We’d pay, but have no say.

The Leave campaigns talk about trying to negotiate a free trade deal similar to the Swiss model. But that would not cover all products and would not give the same unrestricted access as provided by the Single Market. Where we did get duty-free access we would still be required to meet EU standards and regulations.

In other words, the regulatory bonfire we’ve been promised by the Leave campaigns just wouldn’t happen. In any case, some of the worst regulations, as well as the ‘gold-plating’ of EU directives, happen in the UK, not Brussels.

On direct payments, Leave campaigners have said it is inconceivable any UK government would drastically cut support. But it is government policy, set by Labour and endorsed by the Coalition in 2011, to abolish direct payments in 2020.

What sort of new national farm policy would we end up with outside the EU? The leave camp is hopelessly divided; some want a more protectionist approach whilst others envisage removing all protection and importing food from wherever it is cheapest.

Leaving the EU is a risk we cannot afford to take. It would mean reducing our access to our most important market, little or no reduction in regulation, no influence on future rules, the speedy abolition of direct support and an uncertain future for UK agriculture.

A nightmare scenario, and one we must resist.