Brexit: Farmers who backed Leave now regret vote over subsidy fears

Parliament warned dropping funding for farming will 'collapse the fabric of rural society'

Harriet Sinclair
Monday 01 August 2016 07:29 BST
Remain supporters gather outside Parliament the day after the Brexit vote in June
Remain supporters gather outside Parliament the day after the Brexit vote in June

Many British farmers are experiencing ‘Regrexit’ over fears they may lose agricultural subsidies, the Earl of Sandwich has told Parliament.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate, John Montagu said many farmers had voted “without understanding the consequences” and were now in dismay over news they may not receive the same level of payouts made under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

“In 2013, farmers received €2.6bn (about £2.2bn) under pillar 1 [an EU funding term] and €637m (£538m) for agri-environment and rural development under 'green' pillar 2," he said.

“How will [the Government] ensure that British farmers continue to receive these payments? We have already heard that they may not.

"There are fears that direct payments will be significantly less under the new Government because of the continuing need for austerity.”

The Earl, who said he had voted in favour of remaining in the EU, added that without farm payments, the countryside would suffer.

“Perhaps the Minister will clarify that. He may not know the answer yet but he will know that farmers will have to receive this level of support or the whole fabric of rural society and the countryside will collapse – we heard of the situation in Wales," he said.

Theresa May says she has an 'open mind' over Brexit negotiations

He said the majority of people in his home of west Dorset, particularly in the agricultural community, had voted to leave and were now worried about how Brexit would work, and the financial impact it would have on UK farms.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said the "real challenge for farmers" related to the decision over whether the UK will be "allowed to remain in the single market, with its 500 million customers".

"At the moment, 73 per cent of the UK’s total agri-food exports are to other EU countries," she said.

“Seven out of the top 10 countries to which we export food, drink and feed are in the EU. Meanwhile, our EU partners are currently making it clear that we cannot pick and mix the single market rules, so we cannot have access to the single market without also respecting the free movement of EU citizens.

“If this becomes a deal breaker, farmers will need to find new markets for their products outside the EU in a very competitive world.”

Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the Undersecretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said he could not provide detailed answers to all of the questions posed.

But he told the Lords that British farming was a critical component of the UK’s economic success and assured the house the government would strike positive trade deals with the EU.

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