TIM FARRON: Leavers have no thought for food

Lib Dem Defra spokesperson Tim Farron

Having promised farmers the earth, Brexiteers now have no meaningful plan for the agricultural sector, says Lib Dem MP TIM FARRON

The vote to leave the EU has put farming and agricultural businesses in huge danger.

Farmers are threatened with cuts to the support which underpins their livelihoods and ability to manage the countryside, as well as massive tariffs on their exports.

But the Government has not responded to these very real concerns with anything close to a clear, well thought-out strategy for farmers.

The green paper published in February, entitled 'Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit' looks at enhancing the environment and animal welfare – both of which are obviously very important – but barely mentions the main purpose of agriculture – to produce food! The UK is increasingly becoming less and less self-sufficient, importing 48% of its food, which is up from 41% just eight years ago. At a time when we are so reliant on importing food from abroad, it is incredibly worrying that there seems to be no clear plan about how we carry on feeding ourselves.

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The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the government is set on removing the Basic Payment Scheme which, unless sufficiently replaced, will lead to food prices rocketing, which will not only be bad news for consumers, but a disaster for British farmers. Instead the government favours a total removal of direct payments. This is simplistic stuff from Michael Gove. It is right that we should support farmers to provide public goods such as environmental schemes, but environmental payments often go to the landowner rather than the tenants who farm the land. Most upland farmers are tenants, so this will particularly hit areas like Cumbria hard.

Many, if not most, hill farms in Cumbria would be non-viable without these payments. Having won World Heritage Site Status last year, the government is now risking undermining this by inadvertently creating a big change in our landscape here in the Lake District, and if hill farms go, the Lake District will look very different.

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These proposals look like they've been written in an office in London in order to win headlines, while not thinking through the real impact on our rural communities. The best way to secure environmental benefits is to keep our farmers farming, not to turn them into park wardens.

Defra's own analysis shows that 500 of the nearly 7000 farms in the North West could end up going bust without government support payments. And farmers are not only faced with cuts to subsidies, they also face sky-rocketing tariffs.

Walking away from the EU without a deal continues to be a real possibility, and this would see farmers faced with paying over 50% tariffs on exports.

Currently UK sheep farmers export 40% of their total produce, 90% of which goes to the EU. A 52% tariff would be imposed on these exports if the UK is forced to fall back on WTO rules.

It is absolutely vital that the farming sector be given a special deal with full access to the single market or we could well see the end of family farming here in Cumbria and across the rest of the country.

We depend on a strong and vibrant agricultural industry. Having promised farmers the earth during the referendum our cabinet Brexiteers seem happy enough to leave our farmers without any plan for how they are to grow the food that our country needs.

Tim Farron is MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and the Lib Dem shadow Defra spokesperson

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