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Cabinet minister risks farmers’ fury by claiming a no-deal Brexit will bring ‘new opportunities’

Rob Merrick
·2-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

A no-deal Brexit offers “new opportunities for British farmers”, a Cabinet minister has claimed – despite their warnings that it would be “catastrophic”.

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, brushed off fears of an effective embargo on exports – and soaring food prices in British shops – with just 32 days left to strike an agreement.

Instead, he argued British farmers would sell more in this country, saying: “In terms of most agricultural sectors, we are a net importer.

“And if you were to put tariffs on beef from Ireland, or dairy products from Denmark, or fresh produce from France, there would be new opportunities for British farmers.”

The claim is certain to anger the National Farmers Union, which has warned of crippling cent export tariffs on the 60 per cent of UK food and drink that goes to the EU – if they were allowed at all.

Meanwhile, taxes on EU food imports, combined with a crash in the value of sterling, would also deliver 20 per cent price rises in UK shops, it is feared.

Mr Eustice comments came as talks were resuming in London to avert a crash-out departure from the EU, when the transition period ends on 31 December.

There is little sign of progress, after both the UK and EU agreed a gulf remains between the two sides on the crunch disputes of fair competition rules, how to resolve disputes and fishing rights.

There is still no phone call scheduled between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President – despite the belief that only a high-level political intervention can rescue a deal.

If there is no agreement, Brussels could block all imports until the UK becomes an ‘approved country’. In 2017, 31 per cent of sheep meat was exported, with 94 per cent destined for the EU.

The NFU also fears that new trade barriers would hit the availability of veterinary medicines, fertilisers, plant protection products, machinery parts and animal feed.

Furthermore, as the EU would no longer recognise UK organic certification bodies, exports of organic products to the EU would be severely curtailed.

Mr Eustice was speaking as he unveiled new post-Brexit funding rules for farmers, requiring them to cut CO2 emissions and wildlife loss, but allowing them to “leave behind bureaucracy”, he said.

“We are slashing in half a lot of the pointless rules and regulations that we inherited from the EU,” he told Times Radio.

“As we designed the new scheme, we want it to be less rules-based, much more based on an individual assessment of an individual farm and doing what's right for nature on that farm.”

Insisting prices would remain stable, Mr Eustice added: “But we've got other measures in our Bill as well for making sure farmers get a fairer share of the value of the food they produce.”

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