UK farmers demand ‘certainty’ after election shock

UK farmers have called for “clarity and certainty” on the formation of a new government that will support agriculture as the country prepares to negotiate its exit from the European Union (EU).

The comments from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) came in the wake of the shock results of the UK election, with the Conservatives losing ground to Labour and, consequently, its majority government. Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped her party would increase its majority in the House of Commons in order to strengthen its hand in the Brexit negotiations, due to begin on June 19.

NFU President Meurig Raymond (pictured) said: “British farming underpins the country’s largest manufacturing sector and with farming arguably the sector most impacted by Brexit, NFU members need clarity and certainty as soon as possible over who will govern the country and how they plan to support profitable, productive and progressive agriculture and horticulture in the future.

The NFU will be seeking early meetings with ministers. It is important for our industry to have clarity and see certainty from a functioning administration as soon as possible.

One of the primary concerns of the NFU in the wake of Brexit is the potential loss of EU migrants that make up the bulk of the British farming labour force. According to the union’s 2017 Manifesto, “the UK food supply chain will be substantially less competitive if restrictions are placed on labour after Brexit”.

Raymond added: “British farms currently grow the raw ingredients for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector worth £109 billion and for every £1 invested, farming delivers seven-fold back to this country. Moreover, it is clear the British public value and want to continue to buy British food.

“If the formal Brexit negotiations begin as planned on June 19 we will continue to push for the right post-Brexit trade deal, regulatory framework, a domestic agricultural policy suited to Britain and access to a competent, reliable workforce.”

Sterling

Sterling fell sharply in the late hours of Thursday, June 8, as exit polls pointed towards a hung parliament. This suggests currency pressures could continue to constrain Irish food exports to the UK, with overall export growth down considerably to just 2% in 2016 compared to 12% in the previous year.

Davy Research has highlighted Brexit as a serious concern for Irish farmers. In a note last month, it said: “Our base case is that a transitional Brexit deal will be agreed to avoid the worst case scenario of a ‘hard’ Brexit, where World Trade Organisation tariffs are imposed in 2019, hurting Irish exports.

“If not, Irish GDP growth will slow sharply, with agriculture, indigenous manufacturers and small and medium-sized enterprises particularly exposed.”

Estimates from the Department of Finance suggest a hard Brexit would reduce Irish GDP by almost 2% within two years of trade barriers being imposed.