by Glyn Roberts, FUW president
As Y Tir goes to print, I face the impossible task of writing a column with no knowledge of what might have happened in terms of Brexit by the time copies arrive with members ‐and to make matters worse, as I write, the situation is changing on an hourly basis.
That said, there is plenty of inspiration for thoughts about how we have got to the appalling situation faced by businesses and our democracy in recent months, including, perhaps surprisingly, from Jacob Rees‐Mogg ‐ a politician whose views on Brexit are more or less the opposite to those of the FUW.
Last week, Rees‐Mogg admitted “…perhaps the thought processes that people like me hadn’t gone through before is the thought that Brexit is a process rather than an event.”
In other words, it has taken 3 3 months and a national crisis for the Chairman of the European Research Group ‐which has had a huge influence over Theresa May’s Brexit strategy ‐ to reach a conclusion reached and published by the FUW the day after the EU Referendum.
Those 3 3 months should also have brought home some clear messages to the farming industry: In the 4 6 years since we first joined what is now the EU, we have learned that Brussels has an appetite for needless rules and regulations, that the Common Agricultural Policy has no end of flaws, and that there are those who want to create a federal Europe which undermines sovereignty ‐ not to mention a host of other serious faults.
By comparison, it took just months for administrations in the UK to propose the abolition of agricultural support and increases in farm bureaucracy and restrictions to levels far higher than those applied by the EU.
And for those who hope that losingdirect farm payments and paying the
extra costs of dealing with additional bureaucracy and restrictions would be made up for by better prices on a home market protected from imports, the import tariff rates published on March 1 3 by the UK Government are a further reality check: Food imported to the UK from anywhere in the world under a no‐deal scenario would attract zero tariffs or rates which are generally a fraction of those which we would have to pay to export to the EU.
The one clear exception is the tariff rates which would apply for sheepmeat ‐ including lamb ‐ which are set at the same rate as those for the EU ‐ ranging from 2 8 per cent for frozen chines to 7 6 per cent for chilled carcasses. This is a welcome move, but in reality a hollow victory for agriculture, since the UK has already agreed to take 5 0 per cent of New Zealand’s current EU import quota for lamb, while it does not address the real problem which is that 3 0 ‐4 0 per cent of the lamb we rely on exporting to the EU will face these tariffs, thereby slashing its value. A breakdown of the no‐deal tariff rates can be seen on pages 2 and 3 .
Bizarrely, the UK Government has said that tariffs would be zero for products crossing the land border from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, something which the FUW, Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and others have suggested is likely to be illegal under WTO rules. Illegal or not, if this was to happen it would likely open a one‐way valve for food to come into the UK from anywhere in the EU or from any of its trade partners via the Republic, while Welsh farmers would still face the crippling tariffs which must be applied to all exports to the EU from outside the Single Market.
Such concerns and the national crisis that has played out in Parliament over recent weeks have led to increased calls for a second referendum, including from some farmers.
The FUW does not currently support such a prospect, the issue having been voted on a number of times over the past year by the union’s Council. However, it is notable that the UK Government’s arguments against holding a second referendum vote did not seem to apply when they wanted to bring their own EU Transition Deal to the House of Commons for a second or third vote (by the time you read this, they may even have had a fourth vote).
Having already quoted Jacob Rees‐Mogg, it’s worth going the whole hog and quoting Nigel Farage, who said in May 2016, a month before the EU Referendum, “In a 5 2 ‐4 8 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way”, indicating there could have been unstoppable demand for a re‐run of the EU referendum if the Remain campaign had won by a narrow margin on June 2 3 .
Perhaps what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, but at this point the FUW’s position remains clear: If the UK is to leave the EU we should remain in the customs union and single market in order to minimise economic damage, and Article 5 0 should be revoked to allow time for this to take place in an orderly manner and without having to negotiate a limited extension with the other 2 7 Member States.
When I told Theresa May eight months ago that an extension to the Article 5 0 period was needed to ensure an orderly Brexit, she was dismissive of the proposal. On March 2 0 she wrote to the EU requesting just such a delay. On that same day I wrote to her making it clear that preparations should be made for holding EU Parliamentary elections in May, and that failure to do this is likely to put the UK in a corner that is not in our nations’ interest.
Depending on how MPs have voted, by the time you read this such preparations may be underway. Perhaps we may also be preparing for a UK election, or even another referendum. In all these circumstances, revoking Article 5 0 would guarantee control over the process and necessary time for whatever steps need to be taken next.
Conversely, it may be that the UK Government’s reckless approach and unrealistic timetable mean we are destined for a no‐deal Brexit, with all its catastrophic implications.