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No-deal Brexit will be 'catastrophic' for UK food supplies, warn farmers' unions

‘There is a very real risk that a disorderly Brexit will lead to an immediate reliance on overseas imports, produced to lower standards, while many UK farms struggle to survive,’ NFU says

Ben Chapman
Thursday 10 January 2019 13:08 GMT
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What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

A no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the UK’s food supplies, farmers have warned.

The UK’s four farmers’ unions have urged MPs to take “all necessary steps” to avoid crashing out of the EU ahead of a crucial vote on the government’s proposed deal next Tuesday.

The National Farmers’ Union, NFU Cymru, Ulster Farmers’ Union and NFU Scotland said a no-deal Brexit would have “serious implications”, including higher prices for consumers and disruption to food supplies.

UK animals and animal products would effectively be prevented from being exported to the EU by high tariffs, including 65 per cent on beef, 46 per cent on lamb and 27 per cent on chicken, the unions said in a letter to MPs.

A number of Brexit-supporting MPs have proposed the UK unilaterally cuts its own tariffs and non-tariff barriers to mitigate price rises in the event of no deal.

Backers of the policy say it would help keep prices down but the farmers’ unions warned the UK would be open to food produced to lower standards, such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last year found that slashing import tariffs would have little impact on prices in shops.

In a letter to MPs, the unions said: “Brexit will mean that, for the first time in a generation, UK politicians will have direct responsibility for ensuring our nation is properly fed.

“Yet, in the face of this fundamental responsibility, there is a very real risk that a disorderly Brexit will lead to an immediate reliance on overseas imports, produced to lower standards, while many UK farms struggle to survive. The implications, not only for domestic food supply but for the careful management of our cherished countryside, would represent an historic political failure.

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“Our organisations remain committed to playing their part in managing Brexit in the best interests of farmers and the UK public in the years ahead, but we believe that leaving without a deal on 29 March will lead, very quickly, to the opposite outcome.

“We urge MPs, in light of the central role parliament will play in the coming days in resolving this impasse, to recognise the severe impact no deal will have and to take all steps necessary to avoid such a departure coming to pass.”

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