Campaigners calling for a second referendum have herded a flock of sheep past the Cabinet Office as they protest against the potentially devastating impact a no-deal Brexit could have on farmers in the UK.
According to a new report, more than half of UK farms could go out of business if Britain leaves the EU on October 31 without a deal.
The report written by Dr Séan Rickard, former chief economist of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), warns the government would prioritise keeping food prices down for consumers ahead of safeguarding agricultural producers.
The newly formed Farmers for a People’s Vote took a small flock of sheep past Whitehall to highlight their message.
The report says the EU and all the countries with whom it has free-trade agreements would immediately apply tariffs and non-tariffs on food imports from the UK.
It reveals: “The combination of the removal of support payments – only a proportion will be made up by enhanced environmental payments – and an adverse trading environment will render the majority of farm businesses unviable.
“By the mid-2020s a large proportion of farm businesses – 50% or more is not an unreasonable estimate – recognising that they face an unprofitable future will decide to cease trading.”
Rickard warns free trade agreements to reduce these barriers will take years to negotiate.
He said: “The campaign to leave the EU was based on the idea that the UK would quickly secure a comprehensive new trading relationship with Europe and that leaving would have only positive impacts on UK farming.
“But today the reality looks very different. Boris Johnson has made it very clear that his over-riding priority as prime minister is to take the UK out of the EU by October 31, if necessary with no-deal, no matter what the cost to the country’s economy and security.”
Last month the National Sheep Association revealed 96% of all the UK’s sheep meat exports go to the EU,
It said in the case of a no-deal Brexit farmers would stop trying to export the lamb and would flood the local market resulting in them being unable to sell it.
Conservative MP for Aberconwy and a leading supporter of the People’s Vote, Guto Bebb, added: “Farming is at the very heart of what makes this country great – to put that all at risk for the sake of pursuing a disastrous no-deal for which the public haven’t given their consent would be an outrage against democracy.”