Chapter News

European Parliament, Brexit and Agriculture – debate in Yorkshire

Bracing the cold winds of November, the European Parliament Liaison Office in the UK, together with the National Farmers’ Union in Yorkshire and the North East, organised a debate in York aimed at understanding the implications of Brexit for the agricultural sector.

The assembled panel represented the sectors which will potentially be affected by Brexit: from academics to farmers’ union representatives to producers and politicians. The event aimed to assess how Brexit might impact the sector and what repercussions it could have for people’s grocery shopping.

Despite the subsidies received through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and their biggest union opposing the exit from the bloc, farmers were seen to be a vocal group supporting Brexit, so this debate offered an opportunity to understand the reasons behind this discrepancy.

Several intertwined issues were discussed by the panel, starting from questions from members of the public. Students of the BSc Agricultural Management course from the Askhan Brian College in York asked about the implications of Brexit for future job opportunities and if Brexit should be seen as a challenge or an opportunity for the sector. Students also about the impact that this possible job insecurity might have for the mental health of workers in the sector.

Given the large quantity of food imported from the EU, the audience asked the panel what effects could Brexit have on the food supply chain, and how can the country deal with a lack of agreements between the EU and the UK in the case of ‘hard-Brexit’.

From a consumer’s point of view, maintaining the high EU food standards and certification for local produce was paramount. These standards not only ensure the same quality for products sold around the EU, but they also act as the ‘gatekeeper’ for the internal agricultural market. If the UK was to leave the single market and the customs union and abandon the food standards of the Union, this might deprive their agricultural sector of a pivotal export market.

Guy Poskitt, a local carrot producer spoke of the difficulty in recruiting UK labour for his fields two thirds of his workers come from across the EU.  

Adam Bedford, regional director of the National Farmers’ Union spoke of the ability of farmers to adapt to new economic and political climates, albeit the lack of input coming from the UK government on the issue.

Overall the debate reflected the uncertainty felt during the Brexit negotiations in several sectors from science and research to industry to universities. Doubts around Britain’s future trading relationship with Europe makes planning and adapting to the coming changes more difficult.