EU referendum: ministers must prepare plan B for farming, says CLA

The CLA has warned of risks to rural jobs and to investment in the rural economy if Ministers fail to plan for Brexit.

The organisation represents 33,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales. It publishes a new report today that calls on Ministers to be ready, in the event of the UK voting to leave the EU on 23 June, to give immediate commitments to farmers and rural business on the key issues vital to the continued health of the rural economy.

The new report comes in the wake of recent statements from Ministers that there is no ‘Plan B’ for farming in development for the event that the UK votes to leave.

CLA President Ross Murray said: “Whatever your views on the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU, it is clear that the rural economy has been shaped by agricultural and environmental policies drawn up at EU level since we joined. Through the single market, Europe is an important market for our products, the EU manages vital direct land management payments to farmers, and workers from the EU are critical to our agricultural labour force. For more than 40 years the EU has provided the regulatory framework that governs the environment, trading relationships and the way businesses operate, and is the basis of significant investment decisions.

“If the UK votes to leave, there are immediate commitments that will need to be made by Government to ensure the continued health of farming and the wider rural economy. The Government may not wish to reveal its plans before polling day, but it is critical to know that the right plans are being formed. Failure to plan for Brexit will put rural jobs and investment in the rural economy at serious risk and we cannot leave plans that are this important to chance.”

The new CLA report sets out the critical elements that Government should be planning for, whatever the outcome of the Referendum in June:

Trade – securing access to EU markets for UK agricultural products.

Ross Murray said: “If the UK votes to leave, Ministers must start negotiations immediately to secure tariff free access to the EU for UK agricultural and other products. This is vital trade for sustaining our rural economy.”

Direct payments – allocating a national budget which ensures the payments that enable land managers to care for the environment.

Ross Murray said: “Farmers have budgeted for their businesses to receive land management payments through to the end of 2020. If the UK votes to leave, Ministers will need to confirm they will develop a ‘UK Agricultural Policy’ that ensures the necessary investment in farming and land management continues outside the Common Agricultural Policy, up to 2020 and beyond. Every day that passes after a vote to leave that Ministers do not give reassurances will fuel uncertainties and compound the wider crisis we are facing across our farming sector.

“Currently almost £4bn a year is invested via the EU into supporting sustainable agriculture, environmental management and the wider rural economy. New research in the CLA report shows that the economic multiplier benefit for the UK economy is £10billion, and that it sustains over 370,000 jobs – equivalent to around 10 percent of the total rural workforce. That investment must continue whether we are in or out of the EU.”

Labour – a mechanism for farmers and other rural businesses to continue to access the workforce they need.

Ross Murray said: “Workers from the EU play a vital role in the rural economy. If the UK votes to leave, there must be a plan in place that gives agriculture in particular access to the labour it needs.”

The CLA report does not advocate a position on whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU, but sets out what Ministers must decide and the timeframes in which they must be made, whatever the outcome of the Referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Ross Murray explained: “We are not telling our members how to vote in the referendum but we are ready to defend their interests whatever the outcome of the vote. If the UK votes to leave, the uncertainties for farming and other rural businesses are immediate. If we vote to remain, there are still critical commitments that Ministers will need to make. Whether it is Plan A or Plan B the CLA will be playing a leading role in planning for the future of agriculture and the rural economy.”

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