Article 50: Two crucial years for food, farming and the countryside

The Tenant Farmers Association has called for all sides of the Brexit debate to unite in the common goal of achieving a good deal for Britain following the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the UK Government on Wednesday (29 March).

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “As a nation we are about to engage in an unprecedented round of negotiations which will be crucial to get right for all sectors of our society. Not least for food farming and the countryside where the influence of the EU has loomed large over the 44 years of our membership. During this time we must have the freedom and objectivity to look at all of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in a way which doesn’t seek to re-run the referendum but neither do we want to be pressing ahead with jingoistic fervour without proper consideration of the full range of scenarios within which we might find ourselves”.

The UK Government’s February White paper setting out its policy for the UK’s exit from and new partnership with the EU provides a comprehensive and clear roadmap for the forthcoming negotiations.

“The TFA will seek to work positively with the Government to achieve the goals set out in the White Paper. We will be supporting, challenging and holding the Government to account for the promises and commitments it has made. A key element is the understanding from the Government that some transition will be required beyond the point of legal exit so that we do not face a “cliff edge” position. Any attempt to curtail the two-year negotiations without a settlement with the EU would be in direct contravention of this objective,” said Mr Dunn.

“There has been much talk about the financial settlement and inevitably the UK will have to put its hand in its pocket to pay for its share of any net liabilities it has helped to accrue since 1973. However, it is vital that this does not become a stumbling block to the achievement of the goals set out in the White Paper, including the commitment to prioritise securing the freest and most frictionless trade possible between the UK and EU. It matters much to the UK farming sector that we continue to have free access to the single market, at least on a transitional basis, as we seek to develop trading relationships with other parts of the globe that respect our standards of production including our already high animal health and welfare status,” said Mr Dunn.

Access to labour for agricultural and ancillary businesses has been a major talking point in the lead up to the triggering of notice under Article 50.

“Despite the hyperbole over immigration we are beginning to appreciate the extent to which we are reliant upon EU migrant labour both on our farms and in food processing plants. However, with a feeling of insecurity, exchange rate movements and unnecessary xenophobia, some of this labour is returning to their home countries and the void is not being made up by British nationals. The Government appears to understand that we will need to continue to have access to seasonal labour. However, we will also need an arrangement which allows us to attract non-seasonal labour on a needs basis, whilst we work with the Government to build the capacity to fill these jobs from domestic sources into the long run,” said Mr Dunn.

At the same time as negotiating our exit from the EU, we need to plan for the policies and frameworks that will be required once we have fully left.

“We need to build a new consensus for a post-Brexit food, farming and environmental policy that will last and which and not be subject to the winds of short-term political change. We must consider the full landscape of policies and practices which affect the management of agricultural land including how production standards are developed and enforced, the operation of markets, taxation, tenancy law, risk management tools, environmental and planning regulation, support for research and development including technology transfer and access to land for new entrants, progressing farmers and allowing dignified routes for retirement for older farmers. There is a lot to do and we need to get on with it constructively,” said Mr Dunn.

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