Labour MEPs: Gove fails to be honest with farmers about post-Brexit budget cuts of up to 20 per cent

The UK government must be honest with British farmers about the reality of the budget cuts that are coming their way after Brexit, Labour MEPs warned today as environment secretary Michael Gove, in his speech to the National Farmers’ Union conference, failed to mention the 10-20% cuts coming to farming budgets due to Brexit.

Paul Brannen MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture, said:

“Once again Michael Gove has failed to be frank with our farmers about the Brexit reality that is swiftly approaching. Farmers need to be told that not only are the UK government going to allocate farm funding differently post-Brexit, there is also going to be considerably less of it.

“It is a fact that after the UK leaves the European Union and therefore ceases to contribute to the overall budget, the EU will be forced to cut its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget by somewhere between 10% and 20%. The UK government will then replicate this cut with our farmers.

“In the current financial climate it seems inconceivable that the government would subsidise UK agriculture to a greater degree than EU farmers will be. If they did, this would be seen by EU farmers as unfair competition and not a level playing field, as a result UK farm produce would likely be denied access to our largest market, the EU.

“Gove needs to stop avoiding the money issue and be honest with British farmers about future funding. Even if we continue to match the CAP after 2022 there will be a smaller EU spend to match.

“What the environment secretary needs to make clear is that once Brexit happens, there will be significantly less money for UK farmers.”

On budgets, Gove only said that farmers could earn a new kind of subsidy designed to boost animal welfare, while in a separate speech, Brexit secretary David Davis said fears about a “race to the bottom” in workers’ rights and environmental standards are “based on nothing”, saying that after Brexit there would be continued close co-operation between the UK and the EU on regulations and standards, that he says will help ensure “frictionless” trade.

Paul Brannen MEP added:

“We saw it with Boris Johnson last week and we’ve seen it again today with Michael Gove and David Davis: lots of warm words, fluffy sentiments and reassurances about what won’t happen, but no actual guarantees, and still no vision of what actually will happen if Britain leaves the European Union. They’ve still not even agreed amongst themselves, never mind deigning to tell parliament or the public.

“On food, farming and agriculture, as on every other policy issue, many questions remain, all stemming from the short-sighted and ill-conceived sop to the Brextremists in the Tory Party to leave the customs union and single market. At the moment, we already have the fullest possible access to the EU’s markets, ie. 100%, with the lowest possible tarrifs, ie. 0% – no matter how ‘creative’ your solutions are, it is not possible to improve on these. And unless the government comes up with an actual, workable solution that achieves something close to what we already have, as the environment committee warned, farming businesses could be wiped out.

“The Tories clearly are planning on diverging from EU standards, otherwise they wouldn’t be making such a fuss over the right do so. Lower standards, worse conditions, less access, more barriers… none of this was on the side of a bus during the referendum. Farmers, indeed everyone is right to be fearful over what a Tory Brexit will look like.”

Notes to Editors

1. The NFU say farming standards must not be allowed to slip or be undermined by bad trade deals after Brexit, following fears that food standards will be sacrificed to seal deals with the US – international trade secretary Liam Fox recently said British consumers could be allowed to eat chlorine-washed chicken as he hinted the UK would be open to concessions on standards as part of a prospective trade deal with the United States, after US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said any post-Brexit deal with Washington will hinge on the UK scrapping rules set by Brussels, including regulations governing imports of chlorinated chicken.

2. This week, the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee produced a report, Brexit: Trade in Food, warning food prices could rise sharply and farming businesses could be wiped out at the end of a Brexit transition period. It said concluding a new free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 was “extremely ambitious”, adding the government must have contingency plans to protect consumers and business from the immediate impact of tariffs, which range from about 87% on frozen beef to about 42% on cheddar cheese and 50% on grated cheese.

3. The UK’s food and farming industry generates more than £110 billion a year and employs one in eight people in the UK, and trade is vital to the industry. The EU is the UK’s single largest trading partner in agri-food products, accounting for 60% of exports and 70% of imports: 90% of Britain’s dairy exports are to the EU; 92% of Britain’s beef of exports are to the EU; 84% of pork exports are to the EU; 95% of sheep meat exports are to the EU; 77% of poultry exports are to the EU; 93% of cereal exports go to the EU.

4. Last week Labour released its animal welfare strategy, that proposed: designing post-Brexit farm subsidies to move away from intensive factory farming and bad environmental practices; with new trade deals and the UK no longer subject to EU-wide rules, we must have a comprehensive legislative agenda to ensure the UK has equal and better animal rights across the world; an Animal Welfare Commissioner to ensure animal welfare standards are always considered in new legislation and are maintained in Britain’s involvement in international bodies and post-Brexit trade deals.