Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, told delegates at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Bournemouth that their party needed to argue the case for a Brexit that works for the countryside. Speaking at the Countryside Alliance fringe event on Monday, he urged the Liberal Democrats not to overlook rural communities and said that the party had an opportunity, and an obligation, to hold the Government to account on rural issues.
Catherine Bearder, the Liberal Democrats only MEP, said that she was yet to see an upside of Brexit and argued that there was still a chance that Brexit might not happen as the effects of leaving the European Union became clear. She warned that there was a global shortage of labour in the agricultural sector which would be made worse in this country if Brexit made it harder to recruit workers from countries within the EU.
Alistair Carmichael, who has been MP for Orkney and Shetland since 2001, said that EU funding had been vital for communities in his constituency with payments from the Common Agricultural Policy and also grants from regional development projects. He stressed that any new agricultural policy needed to keep farmers on the land as agriculture was vital for the rural economy and any radical change of policy could lead to farmers going out of business with damaging consequences not just for communities but for the environment as well.
Addressing the politics of Brexit, Mr Carmichael thought that the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, which will implement EU law into UK law on exit day, would go through Parliament successfully. However, he warned that the Government’s other bills, particularly the proposed Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill, would face opposition unless they outlined sensible and practical proposals.
Phil Bennion, a former MEP and farmer from Tamworth, said that getting a new trade deal with the EU was vital. He claimed that farmers faced a “triple whammy” of reduced support payments, rushed trade deals with non-EU countries which increased imports of cheap food, and loss of tariff-free access to the EU market. He said that there was an opportunity to develop an agricultural policy that was more effective and better for the environment but he warned that officials in the UK could be just as bureaucratic as officials in the EU, and also stated that a new agricultural policy would need to be compliant with World Trade Organisation terms which would limit the nature of any new policy.
The Countryside Alliance will be hosting similar events at the Labour and Conservative party conferences. Our fringe events at the party conferences give you the opportunity to voice your concerns about rural issues. We welcome your questions and ask you to submit them in our form below.