The end of farming as we know it?

Thanks to Open Britain

Food, Agriculture & Fisheries


Key messages


  • The Government’s decision to leave the Customs Union and Single Market poses risks for consumers. The UK relies on the EU for 70% of its agricultural imports and the Government must guarantee there will be no tariffs on agricultural products or new regulatory burdens, especially given its aim to take the UK out of the customs’ union.


  • The Government should act to protect UK food security, ensuring UK-produced food is affordable, widely available and produced in a safe and sustainable way.


  • The Government must urgently set out its plans for replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, where EU subsidies make up 50-60% of farm income.  Farmers must not lose out.


  • The Government must clarify its plans for replacing the Common Fisheries Policy, which sends a quarter of a billion euros each year from the EU to UK fishermen. The fishing industry’s interests must be protected.


  • Brexit should force the Government to address Britain’s lack of food self-sufficiency with food prices now forecast to rise due to increased import costs.




  • UK Government position: The UK Government’s White paper on Exiting the European Union states that “leaving the EU offers the UK a significant opportunity to design new, better and more efficient policies for delivering sustainable and productive farming” and that it wants to ‘ensure a sustainable and profitable seafood sector and deliver a cleaner, healthier and more productive marine environment’. [2]


  • Brexit Implications: Brexit has serious implications for farming, with the common agriculture policy coming to an end. At the moment, EU subsidies account for 50 to 60 per cent of farm income. Brexit also brings Britain’s lack of food self-sufficiency in to focus, with food prices now forecast to rise due to increased import costs. Brexit might also have damaging repercussions for the fishing industry, which currently through the Common Fisheries Policy receives a quarter of a billion euros each year from the EU.


  • Leaving the Single Market and customs union would risk tariffs on UK export! Even EEA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) facing tariffs on agricultural products. Such tariffs could have a potentially devastating impact on farms, which operate under very tight margins. Leaving the customs union could also leave UK exports subject to rigorous customs checks, which would place an additional burden on food producers. The presidents of all four of the UK farming unions have called for “full, unfettered access to the Single Market”. EU external rates include almost 30% on sugar & confectionary, 20% on animal products, 12% on fish & fish products and 21% on beverages and tobacco.[3]  the UK’s Food & Drink Federation has noted that over 70% of food and drink imports are from the EU and has called for a tariff-free customs union with the EU where the Government must prioritise tariff-free market access via a comprehensive UK-EU trade deal before proceeding with the Article 50 exit negotiation process.[4] 


  • UK Farming Trade: The UK Government’s White paper on exiting the European Union acknowledges that the UK is a net importer of agri-foods goods and that the UK has a trade deficit of £17bn when it comes to agricultural trade, with over 70% of the UK’s agricultural imports coming from the EU27.[5] According to the National Farmers’ Union, the EU single market is farming’s biggest export destination by far, with 75% of UK agriculture exports being sold to the EU. In the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the NFU argue that the UK must ensure that famers’ access is not constrained by tariff or non-tariff barriers, such as burdensome inspections at UK borders. The NFU warn that any future bilateral free trade arrangements with 3rd countries need to take into consideration that many UK farm businesses would be unable to survive if current tariff barriers were removed or slashed. [6]


  • Farm payments: The Government has guaranteed current levels of funding to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020[7][8], however Andrea Leadsom, a prominent leave campaigner and the Environment Secretary stated in January 2017 that “As we prepare to leave the EU, I will be looking at scrapping the rules that hold us back”.[9] The NFU have called for current levels of public investment in farming to be maintained in the transition from the CAP to a domestic agricultural policy and that any transition should be gradual.[10] 


  • Fisheries concerns: Outside of the Common Fisheries Policy, the UK would be able to devise its own fisheries policy. However, when it comes to international agreements on shared waters with the EU, the UK would be in a position of weakness when it comes to negotiating Total Allowable Catches (TACs). The UK will also need to see how it would continue to trade fish and fisheries-based products with the EU, where even in the EEA, fisheries is not covered and non-EU member states have to pay tariffs. Tariffs of up to 25% could apply on some products. As concerns funding, the UK Government would have to decide whether it would want to replace the EU’s Maritime and Fisheries fund.[11] Some EU member states have been looking into continued access to UK territorial waters post-Brexit and have suggested that UK tariff-free access to EU waters would be contingent on such an arrangement. [12]   


[1]Unless otherwise stated, information taken from “Progressive Principles for Brexit negotiations” January 2017

[2]The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, February 2017, p.41











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