Barefaced lies

The months leading up to the Brexit vote was a maelstrom of controversy and disagreement. As the dust starts to settle, the food sector faces a number of structural changes arising from the skewed expectations of the warring Brexiteers.

The simple truth is that what started out as an attempt to negotiate a privileged and unfair advantage over the EU27 member states rapidly collapsed into an acrimonious blame game that was shamelessly manipulated by London to cover up the weaknesses of the UK government position.

The outcome has been the worst of both worlds, for both sides in the talks. The UK’s opening position on the Common European Tariff was fundamentally hostile, but as negotiations progressed, the UK retained a distorted mirror image of a system that is designed to choke off imports of goods that were once subsidised by European policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy. The blindingly obvious consequence is that UK agricultural exports face the pre-existing Common European Tariff with third country status, while UK consumers can look forward to paying even higher prices for imported food and ingredients, thanks to an additional layer of customs checks when these finally come into force later this year. Be clear about one thing: Boris did not get Brexit done; amid the chaos and confusion, he took the opportunity to take the credit for some of the wreckage littering the political landscape of the day. A work in progress of sorts, maybe, but hardly a workable structure.

Throwing the UK’s food exporters under the bus is at best incompetent, but failing to protect the country’s remaining food producers from predatory trade deals is unforgivable. The small print in the much-hyped trade deals with Australia, not to mention the UK’s recent membership of the Pacific regional trade club does more to help food imports to the UK than exports.

The rising average age of the UK’s agricultural work force will only accelerate the demise of agriculture as a mainstream activity in the UK economy. There are simply not enough niche farming opportunities to provide escape routes for those who will need shelter from the imminent economic shake-down.

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