It is now critical that the deep divisions of the past are healed as quickly as possible and all our efforts are focussed on negotiating the best deal possible for our exit from the EU in parallel with building relationships with the rest of the world. This will be no mean feat and in the rural context it requires focus on the following areas very quickly.
Trade - We need to secure tariff-free access to the EU for all UK agricultural and other products of our rural economy. We also need to replace all trade agreements that now exist between the EU and other nations, and attempt to develop new opportunities worldwide. We must protect ourselves against cheap imports from outside the EU, particularly where standards of production do not match our own.
Agricultural support – The Common Agricultural Policy payments which farmers now receive from the EU will be phased out. They represent approximately 55 per cent of an average farmer’s income and even if they are replaced by UK-based support the timing and nature of this support needs urgent clarification. Allied to this we need urgent clarification on the government’s UK Agricultural and Land Use Policy which has been largely devolved to the EU. This will need to be in place before we leave the EU because the agricultural industry cannot cope with a pregnant pause between the abolition of one system and the introduction of another, which in my experience often happens.
Labour – We must ensure that farmers can continue to employ the critically important labour force that is drawn predominately from EU member states. About 65 per cent of agricultural workers are currently non-UK EU citizens and this rises to 80 per cent for seasonal workers. This workforce cannot be replaced by UK citizens and its loss would have a profound impact on many farms.
It will be a huge task to sort out this short rural wish list alongside all the other wider ramifications that this vote will have on our economy and society at large.
James Stephen MRICS FAAV
To achieve this our country will need a leadership team which can unite a deeply divided society at home and at the same time fight tirelessly for our best interests abroad. It remains to be seen whether such a leadership team exists among the Brexiteers who have brought us to the brink of this brave new world.
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, WellsT: 01749 683381E: firstname.lastname@example.org