Farmers deserve a ‘plan B’ to end Brexit uncertainty

A minister’s claim that there is no ‘plan B’ for British agriculture in the event of a Brexit, is simply not good enough. That is the view of John Thame, at the UK200Group of independent charted accountancy and legal firms, who believes farmers deserve greater reassurances that their livelihoods will be properly protected.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference recently, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Liz Truss, confirmed that the Government has no “plan B” to support British agriculture in the event that the UK leaves the EU following a promised referendum. Ms Truss said it was “not the case” that officials within her department were working up a contingency plan that would form the basis of UK agricultural policy should the referendum result in Britain quitting the EU.

Ms Truss’ comments came after Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU for England and Wales, said the referendum – due to take place before the end of 2017 – could completely change the way agriculture works. That scenario was confirmed by a study by independent, London-based analysts Agra Europe, which has predicted that only the most efficient 10 per cent of British farmers would be able to survive without the multi-billion pound subsidies handed out by Brussels. The report also points out that, for the majority of British farm businesses, EU subsidies represent the difference between profit and loss.

John Thame, Chair of UK200Group’s Agriculture Group and a partner with Ellacotts chartered accountants and business advisers, commented: “The consequences of Brexit for the agriculture sector will very much depend on the policies that the UK might pursue post-Brexit and there are so many unknowns that it makes it hard to draw any definitive conclusions about the likely effects for farmers at this stage.

“Despite this, anecdotal evidence points to a substantial number of farmers broadly being in favour of an EU exit, possibly because they believe that they will be better off, unfettered by EU bureaucracy and red tape. The current uncertainty over Brexit leaves British businesses – and farming in particular – in a state of confusion, creating significant difficulties regarding long term planning and growth. At a time like this, it is not helpful for the government to dismiss these uncertainties by stating that there is no ‘plan B.’ It is simply not good enough and the Government has a duty to ‘fill in the blanks.'”

“Another concern being voiced, is that in any negotiations, agriculture might suffer against other sectors such as financial services and the pharmaceutical industry which make a greater contribution to the UK’s GDP. The government cannot afford to leave things to chance. There is an urgent need to engage with agricultural representatives now to explain how this vital sector will be protected, regardless of which way the British public votes in the referendum.”

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